What Are E-Cigs

May 29, 2014 by  

What Are E-Cigs, The Food and Drug Administration says it plans to regulate e-cigarettes, along with cigars and other tobacco products. Health advocates say it’s about time, but many “vapers” who use e-cigarettes say regulation will damage a product that’s a far safer substitute for cigarettes.

“The FDA has over stepped their boundaries,” supporters wrote in an online petition posted this week. “DoNot, allow the FDA to take control of a life saving product (sic).”

Even health experts agree that electronic cigarettes, which deliver nicotine in a heated mist of water, glycerin and propylene glycol, might be useful in helping people who want to quit smoking. So where’s the harm in them?

Mostly, it’s the unknown, the FDA says. “We can’t even tell you what the compounds are in the vapor,” FDA’s Mitch Zeller told reporters.

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FDA regulation would require the companies to tell the agency, but not necessarily the public, what’s in their products. FDA is sensitive to protecting competitive secrets.

The FDA is also asking for research on potential harms from inhaling the heated mixture. It might not be as harmful as burning tobacco leaves, but it might not be completely benign, either, says Dr. John Spangler, who runs a smoking cessation clinic at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

“It is true that electronic cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes. On the other hand there are some effects in the lung of the vapors which mimic the same kind of changes that go along with asthma,” Spangler told NBC News.

“That happens within 5 minutes of using an electronic cigarette. We don’t know how long that will last or whether it will lead to permanent lung damage.”

Vaping enthusiasts will argue that using the products allows them to skip regular tobacco cigarettes, whose harms are well-documented. If that’s the case, many health advocates say they are all for them. But there’s not much research to say whether that’s true.

Spangler’s been studying this and doesn’t have final data yet. But in general, e-cigarettes appear slightly less effective than nicotine gum or patches or drugs such as Chantix, he says.

“I do have about 20 percent of my smoking patients in my clinic who are using electronic cigarettes,” he said. “Of the patients who use them, about 10 percent of them actually quit smoking using electronic cigarettes.”

“Most consumers would be shocked to realize the products they buy have less oversight than a bag of dog food.”

And experts argue that if e-cigarette makers wanted their products used as quit-smoking aids, they’d have submitted them to the FDA as such. Instead, manufacturers fought FDA’s attempts to regulate them in that way, and won in federal appeals court.

Either way, people who use them should want them regulated, says pulmonologist Dr. Nathan Cobb of Georgetown University School of Medicine.

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