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Researchers Suggest Booming E-cigarette Market in Need of Greater Oversight

E-Cigarettes FDA regulation study

With the increasing popularity and sales of e-cigs many states have drafted their own legislation in absence of federal regulations concerning the industry. Minnesota is currently the only state with a sales tax directed solely at targeting electronic cigarette sales, but as the e-cigarette sales boom continues other states may follow suit.

Shu-Hong Zhu, a professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California at San Diego, who co-authored one of nine studies funded by the National Cancer Institute, said "It's exploding... There's no sign of slowing down." Zhu, along with other respected researchers found a mind-blowing proliferation of e-cigarette brands and flavors on the Internet in the past two years alone, with roughly 10 new brands and 240 new flavors arriving on the market every month. As of the first of the year, researchers surveying English-language websites identified 466 e-cigarette brands such as Innokin and Kanger along with 7,764 flavors from Apple to Peppermint to specialty e-liquid blends with names like After Dinner.

E-cigarettes have gained traction far beyond the Internet. The industry as spawned a resurgence of the Mom & Pop specialty shops and smoke shops across America. Shops like Burleson Vapors in small town Texas, Daniel's Vape Shop in Sylvester, Georgia, and Sipp Vapes in Pearl, Mississippi. Frank Chaloupka, director of the Health Policy Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago stated, "There’s this really rapid growth happening... They are becoming available all over the place, they are being marketed aggressively, and they are cheap compared to normal cigarettes. But in terms of policy, there’s been very little done to control [the industry] to this point."

These researchers went on to point out that with this ever-changing and vast 2 billion dollar industry expansion there needs to be more oversight and more research into the potential impact on public health. Zhu and Chaloupka both point out that lawmakers should act quickly to pass measures to limit sales and marketing of e-cigarettes to minors and to ensure sound manufacturing practices. Dozen of states and municipalities have enacted regulations concerning electronic cigarettes. However, fewer than two-dozen states have restricted use among minors, and only about a dozen have applied smoke-free laws in public places to prohibit the use of electronic cigarette devices.

In April, after much apprehension and speculation, the Food and Drug Administration said it would for the first time begin regulating e-cigarettes, as well as cigars, pipe tobacco and hookahs. If the FDA's proposed restrictions are enacted, some of the new regulations may include:

  • Prohibition of sales to minors
  • Free samples no longer allowed
  • Manufacturers must place health warning labels on their products
  • Ingredient disclosure
  • Makers of e-cigarettes would be banned from making health-related claims without scientific evidence

Many who are involved in the industry do not disagree with these recommendations and, in fact, have implemented many of these in their day to day operations, but the FDA's new regulations, which are still within the 75 day comment period, will not restrict the following:

  • Online sales of e-cigarettes
  • Prohibition of television advertising
  • Ban on the widespread use of exotic flavors

The federal rule-writing process on the issue of e-cigarettes and eliquidhas been sluggish which leads many observers to believe that litigation over these proposals and the establishment of any final regulations is still years away. Cynthia Cabrera, executive director of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA) said, "The industry has no problem with regulation. The industry has a problem with inappropriate regulation. If you have regulation that stifles this market, that's not a good thing." SFATA supports age restrictions and Cabrera adds that reputable e-cigarette makers are already adhering to stringent manufacturing practices. Many studies have indicated that using e-cigs is less harmful than smoking traditional, analog cigarettes. The general consensus by those who conducted this latest research could best be summed up in the words of Zhu, the UC-San Diego researcher who concludes "E-cigarettes could end up providing a net benefit if they lessen use of tobacco." What's missing is basic regulation of the industry and more reliable research into e-cigarettes' long-term impact on health. "We want to regulate e-cigarettes in such a way that we help reduce cigarette smoking as much as possible."

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