Laws in New York City and Chicago making electronic cigarettes subject to much the same regulation as tobacco cigarettes are simply doing what states and the Food and Drug Administration should be doing with this nascent industry.
Regulations should not be on hold for the years it will take for the science to come out on the effects of e-cigarettes, which create a vapor by heating up a liquid containing nicotine. Moreover, no one should be subjected to the effects of second-hand “vapors” while scientists make up their minds about whether they are dangerous.
That is the idea behind the bans on the use of e-cigarettes in public places in several large cities. Compared to those tough municipal measures, the federal regulations proposed last week by the FDA represent an important first step but one that is far too timid.
The FDA proposed sweeping rules that would, for the first time, extend its regulatory authority to electronic cigarettes. It has had that authority since 2009, when Congress passed a major tobacco control law, and it took all these years to catch up on the fast-growing e-cigarette industry.
New York State is about to consider a measure to ban vaping in public places. Cities that have taken matters into their own hands are looking out for their residents, but uniform federal action is needed. Proponents of a ban say e-cigarettes threaten to make smoking acceptable once again, particularly among teenagers who might be enticed with candy-like flavorings such as bubble gum and grape, along with celebrity endorsements in ads tobacco companies are barred from using.
E-cigarettes are following the template makers of tobacco cigarettes used decades ago to attract new, young smokers to replace the ones who managed to quit, or didn’t quit and suffered agonizing illness and eventual death.
The 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was a body blow to Big Tobacco. The crackdown on the tobacco industry helped push smoking rates down. Yes, there are still plenty of smokers, but you no longer see the Marlboro Man or cartoon characters hawking cigarettes. Unless the FDA acts, who knows whether Marlboro Man or Joe Camel 2.0 will show up sucking on e-cigs.
The e-cigarette industry claims the products are not the same as regular cigarettes and, in fact, they offer a safer alternative to smokers. There are plenty of former regular cigarette smokers who will testify that electronic cigarettes helped them kick the habit.
Getting smokers to quit is a laudable goal. However, it seems likely that e-cigarettes also provide a gateway for many more new smokers.
The FDA said it needs more research on the effects of e-cigarettes before taking tougher steps. That’s backward; e-cigarettes should have to follow the rules set for tobacco cigarettes unless it can be shown they are safe. The American public can’t afford to hold its collective breath that long.