Rising e-cigarette sales spur call for regulations

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network wants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate how the devices work, what ingredients they contain and the potential effects they could have on users.

The request comes after the release of a study by the Centers for Disease Control that found adult use of e-cigarettes increased by 88 percent from 2010 to 2011, to a total of 6 percent. Use by current smokers “more than doubled” during that period, to 21.2 percent.

Chris Hansen, the president of American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said the increase “adds even more urgency to the need for the FDA to regulate these products.”

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The FDA defines e-cigarettes as any product that turns nicotine and chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user. The agency’s website says it “intends to regulate other nicotine-containing products, including electronic cigarette products that do not make a therapeutic claim, in the future,” but does not give any other specifics.

“E-cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes are regulated by the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER),” the regulator says.

Hansen argues that the devices “have not been scientifically shown to be effective tobacco cessation tools, yet some distributors are marketing them either directly or indirectly for that purpose.”

Previous attempts by the FDA to regulate the products have been overruled by courts.

Between 2008 and 2010, the agency decided that e-cigarettes were “unapproved drug/device combination products,” under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, and blocked the importation of the devices from China.

A federal judge overturned those regulations and said the products could be regulated as “tobacco products,” but not as “drugs/devices unless they are marketed for therapeutic purposes.”

The electronic cigarette industry is fighting back against the calls for increased regulations. In January, The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) filed a petition with the White House to oppose the FDA’s regulatory efforts.

“The FDA should not propose or approve any regulation that would deny cigarette smokers legal or affordable access to less hazardous smoke-free alternatives,” Bill Godshall, an adviser with the CASAA, wrote in the petition. This month, the measure gained more than the necessary amount of signatures to warrant a reply from the White House.

“E-cigarettes and associated accessories and liquids are less hazardous than cigarettes and can reduce the risks of smoking. With the use of these devices millions have successfully reduced the use of cigarettes. Don't let the FDA deny us access to these alternatives to smoking,” the petition says.