New FDA rules spotlight e-cigarette safety claims

Think e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to tobacco? You may want to think again.

Just last week the FDA announced new rules for e-cigarettes, which had been unregulated since they first became available in this country in 2007.

The new rules, which go into effect in August, treat e-cigarettes very much like the real thing. That’s because the two have a lot in common.

Unlike tobacco cigarettes, e-cigs do not burn. They use a battery to heat a cartridge containing nicotine and other chemicals, including flavorings, until those chemicals become a vapor that can be inhaled. The vapor from an e-cigarette does not contain the toxins and tar that tobacco smoke contains, but it does contain nicotine, one of the most addictive known substances.

And, at least until now, there was no way to know what other harmful substances the vapor contained. These could include formaldehyde, which is known to cause cancer, and the flavorings may themselves contain harmful toxins.

One of the biggest fears with e-cigarettes is that their flavorings will attract non-smokers, particularly teenagers, and lead to a lifelong nicotine addiction. Ask any smoker who’s tried repeatedly to quit and they will tell you they wish they’d never started smoking in the first place.

Another danger is nicotine poisoning in young children, who might be attracted to the e-cig flavorings.

The new rules prohibit misleading advertising, require health warnings on e-cigarette packaging and forbid sales to anyone under age 18.

Ellen Hahn, a professor at the UK College of Nursing and co-chair of the UK Tobacco-free Task Force, was quoted in a USA Today story about the regulations, saying the new rule is a good first step toward controlling e-cigarettes. “From a health perspective, to reduce the social acceptance of them is good because frankly, it’s the Wild, Wild West out there,” she said. “Vape stores are everywhere.”

Some fans of e-cigarettes say they can help smokers quit tobacco, but there’s not enough research at this point to know whether that is true.

The bottom line is it’s better not to smoke at all. If you’re a smoker trying to quit, be sure to seek out support to help you along the way. (See our list of resources below.) And if you’re a non-smoker, remember, that first e-cigarette could lead to a lifetime of trying to quit.

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