A representative from the Food and Drug Administration, the nation's chief regulatory agency of tobacco products, reported to Congress in a hearing last Thursday that e-cigarettes are certainly less harmful than tobacco smoking. The agency official pointed out however, that more research is needed and that regulation is still in order for the electronic cigarette products. Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products testified that:
"If we could get all of those people [who smoke] to completely switch all of their cigarettes to noncombustible cigarettes, it would be good for public health."
The hearing, which took place last Thursday on May 15, 2014, could help determine the fate of the e-cigarette industry in the United States.
This good news was tempered by the FDA's insistence on asserting their authority to restrict the industry. Zeller told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions that it has "far more questions than answers" when it comes to the effects of e-cigs on the people who use them, but that allowing the industry to operate outside the FDA's regulatory authority is unacceptable. According to the FDA, the agency is funding several studies to get more answers.
The vapor cigarette industry, which supporters say has helped thousands of people either quit or cut back on smoking, faces several restrictions under the FDA's proposed new regulations. Many fear that these new regulations, which include a requirement for e-cigarette companies to seek FDA approval for any new products, would place unreasonable burdens on small businesses and stifle innovation in a growing industry that operates for the public's benefit.
It is encouraging to note that the FDA does not appear to be taking the hard-line stance against e-cigarette products that some of the industry's critics are taking. In fact, the FDA has proposed extending the 75-day comment period past July to allow all stakeholder voices to be heard and to allow further studies to be conducted. This seems to be an indication that the FDA is willing to allow room for e-cigarette vaporizers as smoking cessation tools. However, whether they think that vaping — and its associated smokeless, flavored nicotine juice products — should continue to flourish without strict regulation is another matter. Food and Drug Administrator Mitch Zeller went on to say:
"We’ve been given an opportunity to make a serious dent in the death and disease toll, now that we can regulate these," Zeller said. "Let’s not lose our focus on what the primary cause is for those 480,000 avoidable deaths each year—it’s primarily burning, combusting cigarettes."