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Former FDA Commissioner Says E-Cigarettes Need to be Regulated

Apr 29, 2015

In a New York Times op-ed article, former FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president Matthew L. Myers emphasize that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to take swift action to regulate e-cigarettes. While the agency has had the power to regulate all tobacco products since 2009, there still no rules are implemented for e-cigarettes. The agency is facing mounting pressure to regulate the device in light of a recent report showing that the use of e-cigarettes has tripled among young people within one year.

The sharp increase in e-cigarette use is "a wake-up call", but it is not surprising, Kessler and Myers say. There are no federal regulations in place for e-cigarette makers who are using the same strategies as cigarette companies to get young people addicted. The devices are marketed through celebrity endorsements, made to appear glamorous in TV and magazine ads, and sponsored by race cars and music festivals. E-cigarette makers are also making the devices more appealing to youth through sweet flavors such as gummy bear and cotton candy.

Last April, the FDA proposed new rules for e-cigarettes. However, it is unclear how long the rules will take to finalize or what the outcome will look like. The proposed rules would restrict sales to individuals 18 and above. In some states, there are currently no age restrictions. However, Kessler and Myers point out that the proposal does not address how the devices are marketed or the use of appealing flavors. Failing to address these issues is "a big mistake", the article opines. "The cigarette industry has long understood that virtually all new tobacco users in the United States are children and that if it doesn’t hook them as kids, it probably never will. We can’t let the e-cigarette industry do the same."

According to the op-ed article, the lack of regulations for e-cigarettes can undermine the progress that has been made to reduce smoking among teenagers throughout the years. Smoking among high school students dropped to a record low 9.2 percent from 67 percent in the last 15 years, but Kessler and Myers assert that the e-cigarette industry can ruin this progress if they continue to be unregulated. In 2013, 4.5 percent of high school students used the devices; that figure has already jumped up to 13.4 percent in 2014.

It is currently unknown whether e-cigarettes are effective as a cessation tools in adults. What is known, on the other hand, is that they are harmful in kids. The devices, as with regular cigarettes, are nicotine delivery systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young people are especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction. There is also evidence suggesting that nicotine exposure can impact adolescent brain development.

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