The electronic cigarette or e-cigarette has become the hot new "safe" cigarette. Like so many other safe cigarettes that have preceded it, the e-cigarette is not without controversy. With any product that is capable of directly affecting human health, the first question out of many potential users' mouths is "Are e-cigarettes FDA approved?". The resounding answer is no. There are many reasons that the FDA has not given electronic cigarettes the stamp of approval and some of them are the same things that plague regular cigarettes!
The E-Cigarette Arrives
The e-cigarette is a nicotine delivery system that operates electrically. Developed in 2003, this device is promoted as a safe alternative to cigarettes. Within the plastic body, liquid nicotine is mixed with propylene glycol or glycerol and then vaporized to deliver the nicotine to the body while also simulating the smoke found in a regular cigarette. Many even have LED lights on the end to simulate burning. The e-cigarette companies tout this as a safe alternative because the user receives nicotine without the tar and carcinogens found in a normal cigarette. Is this true? The FDA says not so fast!
In 2009, the FDA tested two common brands of e-cigarettes Smoking Everywhere and Njoy. The results were not good for these companies. One cartridge contained diethylene glycol instead of propylene glycol. Diethylene glycol is a cheaper but deadlier ingredient found in antifreeze. Certain tobacco specific carcinogens were found in half of the samples tested-the very things that e-cigarettes are trying to protect the smoker from! Other substances suspected to be harmful were found in a majority of the samples as well. All but one of the cartridges that were supposed to be nicotine free were found to contain low levels of nicotine. At the end of the study, the FDA not only did not approve the e-cigarette, but declared it illegal.
Let the court battle begin
The FDA has blocked imports of e-cigarettes by Smoking Everywhere on different occasions and is engaged in a lawsuit with the company. Several states like New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Oregon have either banned or severely restricted the sale of these devices. Obviously, Big Tobacco companies are also watching the court battles closely as well and will through money at lobbyists depending on how much of a threat they view the encroaching e-cigarette.
The e-cigarette has begun to successfully infiltrate the smoking market here in America. Any potential user should still be aware or the possible health affects. Any device designed to deliver a drug into the body can cause harm. It should be used with caution since not only do the FDA tests show there are dangers, but there are other dangers to e-cigarettes to consider as well. For many people, the e-cigarette is the lesser of two evils, but the best alternative is to quit. Do e-cigarettes help quit smoking? Maybe for some, but for others it just promotes continued smoking. The FDA will not approve the e-cigarette anytime soon so a governmental seal of safety may never be stamped on it. Widespread use of this "illegal" device will continue, though, as more cities and public spaces outlaw regular cigar and cigarette smoking.