The e-cigarette or electronic cigarette mimics smoking using vapor. It can contain tobacco products, but doesn’t necessarily need to. Some believe it helps people quit smoking, while others (such as Instead) believes it is not a quit smoking product. So where does it fit in? A tobacco product needs to contain tobacco. A new drug needs to cure, treat, diagnose, or mitigate a disease or condition.
There is no clear answer. But, when we look past the question of regulation, taxation, and ultimate control here is what we find:
A product that a decent percentage of smokers find to be a reasonable alternative to burning tobacco. Inhaling burning tobacco is known to cause cancer and a multitude of other problems for the user and potential for those near the user. Inhaling vapor from an e-cigarette has not been shown to cause issues for the user or by-standers. There may be unforeseen issues of inhaling propylene glycol or glycerin vapor in the long term, but there is no way to tell without decades of testing. In the mean time, inhaling burning tobacco would continue to kill. It is hard to believe that inhaling propylene glycol for 20 years would be worse than inhaling all the dangerous chemicals found in tobacco smoke for 20 years. Even if the FDA was correct and the vapor contained traces of TSNAs (which it didn’t…..it found those in the liquid), tobacco smoke contains these TSNAs in much, much higher levels.
So who should regulate it? The FDA thinks they should as an NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy). The issue is this; as an NRT it would need to be pulled from the market and submitted by a pharmaceutical company as a quit smoking product. The cost is in the tens of millions and the testing can go on for years. Even after it is approved, it can then only be sold in pharmacies either with or without a prescription. This is all assuming a pharmacy even sees the potential and submits the application. In the meantime, people keep burning tobacco at their regular rate and dieing.
If we skip into the future and do find electronic cigarettes sold in pharmacies, we will find tobacco cigarettes being sold in gas stations. We will likely find electronic cigarettes have now become more expensive than tobacco cigarettes (the pharmaceutical company would need to make back their tens of millions). We find at least some smokers disappointed that they didn’t quit using the e-cigarette as the package so boldly claims.
Now lets look at an alternative future, one where regulation has come in a different form such as via the tobacco bill or via the industry itself or via a newly created category. The product is sold in gas stations beside tobacco cigarettes. Companies compete to reduce their prices while consumers continue to demand innovation, safety, and function. There is competition. It is marketed as another way to smoke. Smokers freely use the e-cigarette instead of their tobacco cigarettes, whether completely or sporadically.
Which scenario is in the best interest of the smoker and of by-standers?
Electronic cigarettes are not safe. They are not healthy. But inhaling burning tobacco is known to carry a high risk of cancer.