Though the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Monday that the agency is moving “full speed ahead” with its efforts to crack down on the use of e-cigarettes, on Friday, it will be a year since the FDA proposed regulating the devices.
Dr. Stephen Ostroff said strengthening tobacco regulations is one of his top priorities. The FDA originally suggested regulating e-cigarettes four years ago, but did not formally propose rules until April 2014, according to the web site The Hill. Under the proposed regulations, e-cigarettes could not be sold to anyone under the age of 18, but the proposal does not address e-cigarette marketing or advertisements that appeal to children. Public health advocates hope the final rule will address these concerns.
Last year, Sen. Tom Harkin, then chair of the Health Committee told The Hill, “It’s past time for the FDA to take action on e-cigarettes and to treat these products as what they are — addictive tobacco products.” Gregg Haifley, director of federal relations at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said, “Every bit of delay is a new opportunity for the tobacco industry to hook new people on nicotine and get in the way of helping tobacco users quit.”
Dr. Ostroff pointed to alarming new data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey showing the use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students has tripled in the last year. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), worries about introducing an addictive substance like nicotine to a broad population of teenagers. “This is a really bad thing,” Frieden said, noting that research has found that nicotine harms the developing brain, according to the New York Times.
Smoking is still the biggest cause of preventable death in the United States, with smoking-related illnesses claiming more than 480,000 lives a year. Many scientists say e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes because they deliver nicotine without the tar and other toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke. But e-cigarettes are new to the market, and evidence about their long-term health effects is limited.
The nicotine liquid used in e-cigarettes is a concern. E-liquid comes in a variety of fruit and candy flavors, which appeal to very young children. Ingesting as little as a teaspoon of the liquid can be fatal to a small child. Currently, the liquid does not have to be packaged in childproof bottles or carry warnings, and e-cigarette users who are not aware of its dangers may leave the liquid where it’s accessible to children. Poison control centers have reported an increase in calls about nicotine poisoning. Poisoning from the liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes can happen by swallowing the liquid, inhaling it; or absorbing it through the skin or membranes in the mouth, lips, or eyes, according to Web MD. Once it is in a person’s system, nicotine can cause nausea, vomiting, or seizures.