Some people use them for the fruity flavors, others as a treatment for nicotine addiction and others as just another mindless habit. It may seem like the reasoning for smoking an e-cigarette doesn’t matter, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation on the devices varies based on your intended use of the product.
Items like electronic pens and vapes, called electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), are considered tobacco products by the FDA for regulatory reasons. However, they don’t contain any tobacco – instead the e-juices are made with vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol and flavoring. Nicotine, which is derived from tobacco, is added to many flavor mixes. The use of nicotine in the product turns it into a tobacco product, according to the FDA.
As long as ENDS are considered tobacco products, the FDA has the authority to regulate them. However, little research has been done on their effects and therapeutic ability to prevent or reduce smoking.
Imposing regulation on a product with no information besides reported adverse event is excessive and prohibitive to progress.
The Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) works with the FDA to monitor adverse events, or side effects, of using ENDS. The CTP gathers voluntary communications from consumers, healthcare professionals and other members of the public to identify concerns with the products. Reported adverse events include child mortality from choking on small pieces of an e-cigarette pen, burns to the face from a product exploding, congestive heart failure and pneumonia among others.
Since many ENDS users smoke cigarettes or previously smoked cigarettes, it is almost impossible to determine which effects are directly linked to ENDS use and which are from preexisting factors.
The FDA hopes to discourage middle and high school students from ENDS by considering them tobacco products. Youths may be more enticed by the fruit flavors of ENDS, but turned off by the label of “tobacco product.” However, by lumping ENDS into the category of tobacco products, current smokers are more encouraged to continue smoking traditional cigarettes instead of trying an alternative with far less tobacco.
The long-term effects of ENDS are unknown and short-term effects have not been adequately researched. Research by the FDA cannot even conclude whether e-cigarettes marketed for therapeutic purposes, like a stop smoking aid, would be safe and effective. If it lowers a person's craving for a cigarette, which contains much more tobacco than just nicotine, it should be considered effective.
Research also does not differentiate between ENDS with and without nicotine, further making the label of "tobacco product" misleading.
Tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, according to the FDA.
If the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are truly concerned with public health, it should focus more research efforts on ENDS as smoking cessation methods.
The potential benefit of ENDS is reduced or ceased tobacco use. As the most preventable cause of death and disease in the nation, it is more than worth giving e-cigarettes a chance to develop and prove themselves. Regulation and the misleading labeling of products is a step in the opposite direction of progress in combating widespread tobacco use. If something isn’t tobacco, it shouldn’t be regulated like it.
Breanna Smith is a 21-year-old journalism senior from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.