A burgeoning market unchecked
When the electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) first emerged in 1963, no one really noticed. The cumbersome device was impractical and ineffective, causing users to strain with every pull. A sufficient battery was the e-cigarette’s biggest problem.
The device went through a renovation in 2007 when China developed a new lithium battery that vaporized the nicotine more efficiently, making the product both smaller and more powerful. The e-cigarette vaporizes liquid nicotine to replace the tobacco smoke.
Those who use e-cigs call this vaping, and the nicotine enters the lungs in the same way a traditional cigarette does, minus the smoke. The user emits a vapor when he exhales. From a distance, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish it from a real cigarette. The nicotine is still addictive, and the habit continues to grow exponentially as costs come down.
Lower price combined with convenience drive the market for vaporized nicotine. Electronic cigarettes are available everywhere, in pharmacies, gas stations, and especially online. As they grow more popular, they also draw attention and criticism.
The users are content with the product, but many outsiders see several serious problems. Currently, e-cigarettes do not fall under U.S. regulation because they contain no tobacco. While many vendors are self-conscious and refuse to sell to minors, there are no technical regulations barring it. In addition, no quality research has been performed.
The health debate
Without regulation, data on the safety of the e-cigarette does not exist. The FDA would be responsible for testing, but it lacks the authority unless changes are made to the law. The e-cigarette companies have no incentive to perform tests when they are selling well without them. Since the FDA is blocked, no one else is motivated to go through expensive testing. The only information that consumers have to go on is anecdotal and suspect.
The problem with the current situation is that the public is rendered powerless, without the ability to review information or make changes. E-cigarettes are a potential health threat or benefit (for smokers), but we don’t know.
I do not advocate more regulation or legislation, but the stalemate is a ridiculous situation for consumers, and a real problem when you consider minors are involved. Many individuals consume the e-cigarettes with the belief that they are safer than tobacco, and if they are, smokers deserve to know. If they are not, then people are damaging their bodies because of a lack of knowledge and information.
In the chaos of inaction, the supposed health appeal of e-cigarettes may even be luring nonsmokers.
Governmental research is the only answer
Some states are considering Canada’s recent move to ban e-cigarettes entirely out of fear and ignorance. They lack the studies to support their decision, and such an arbitrary reaction does not seem fair when the government should perform preliminary studies to see if the action is valid.
With research, governments can make a decision on how to handle e-cigarettes, but they seem content to push the all-or-nothing resolution: either total lack of restriction or a total ban. Inaction is forcing this decision. The only way we can know if e-cigarettes are dangerous is to test their safety.
For the sake of public health, the U.S. government needs to act now by performing research. Actions based upon whim and hearsay make weak government. We deserve to have this important health information available, so that the public can make educated decisions as to how to handle this technology. The only right action, in this case, is research.