The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating manufacturers' health claims about electronic cigarettes and deciding whether to ban the nicotine-delivery devices as the agency did with nicotine lollypops and drinks.
NPR reported April 13 that e-cigarette maker Smoking Everywhere claims in its ads, “Fact: Smoking Everywhere electronic cigarette is the healthier way to smoke.”
E-cigarettes can come in tobacco flavor, but contain no tobacco and don't burn. Rather, the device vaporizes nicotine, which is then inhaled and ingested by users. Other flavors include coffee, chocolate, mint and apple.
The health claims have attracted the attention of federal regulators. “We're concerned about the potential for addiction to and abuse of these products,” said FDA spokeswoman Rita Chappelle. “Some people may mistakenly perceive these products to be safer alternatives to conventional tobacco use.”
FDA currently is blocking the importation of e-cigarettes, e-cigars and e-pipes until its investigation is concluded, although sales are continuing. Manufacturers say the agency is overstepping its bounds.
“Like a traditional cigarette, this product is not intended to produce a therapeutic effect,” said Walt Linscott, a lawyer for Smoking Everywhere Inc. “It is not a drug, if you will. This is an adult smoking experience, and it should be thought of and regulated in that similar construct.”
FDA's mandate is currently limited to food and drugs, but Congress is considering legislation to give the agency the power to regulate tobacco products, as well.
Health advocates have had a mixed reaction to e-cigarettes' potential to cut smoking rates. “I think there's a lot of possibilities; it's intriguing,” said Thomas Glynn with the American Cancer Society. “But it needs to go through some rigorous testing before the public-health community would feel comfortable with it.”