The Food and Drug Administration has announced a warning on electronic cigarettes, also known as “e-cigarettes,” after a lab analysis found that they contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze that may be harmful to humans. E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine, flavor, and other chemicals that are inhaled by the user.
Despite bans in Australia, Canada, and Hong Kong, e-cigarettes are readily available in shopping malls and online, and public health experts worry that they could increase nicotine addiction and tobacco use in young people. E-cigarettes do not contain health warnings, and are available in flavors such as apple, mint, banana, strawberry, and chocolate, making them all the more appealing to young people. And the purchasing process is as easy as the click of a button as I found recently when I attempted to order a set of e-cigarettes online. The online retailer simply asked me to “agree” that I was at least 18 years old. I clicked on the ‘I agree’ button, placed my order, and on to checkout with no further verification of my age.
The FDA regulates tobacco and cessation aids to treat nicotine addiction, and due to recent examinations, has determined that e-cigarettes need to be FDA-approved before being marketed. But the FDA’s efforts have been countered by some makers and retailers who state that e-cigarettes are not in fact cessation aids, but rather a “healthier” alternative to cigarette smoking, which downplays the harmful effects of nicotine.
“There’s nothing ‘healthy’ about them,” says Consumer Union Medical Adviser, Orly Avitzur, MD. “And I’ve yet to see medical evidence that proves that they help people stop smoking. They are a case of a wolf in sheep’s clothing; the flavors are devised to appeal to kids, some of whom become dependent and go on to seek out cigarettes with higher nicotine content."
The agency is planning additional activities to address its concerns about e-cigarettes and asks that consumers report any adverse effects as a result of using e-cigarettes to the FDA’s Medwatch program.