Because the use of nicotine-delivery devices called e-cigarettes has more than doubled among high school students in just the past year, it's important that everyone be aware of the dangers of these unproven devices, says Professor John Banzhaf, who helped establish the agency's jurisdiction over the product, and prodded attorneys general, various companies, and legislators to take action against them.
Just a few months ago, a new study found some 22 potentially dangerous chemical elements in the vapor given off or inhaled. These include many metallic particles – including 3 on the FDA's “harmful and potentially harmful chemicals” list [lead, nickel, and chromium] – with the concentrations of 9 "higher than or equal to the corresponding concentrations in conventional cigarette smoke," notes Banzhaf, who has been called "the law professor who masterminded litigation against the tobacco industry."
An earlier study found that e-cigarettes also create elevated levels of acetic acid, acetone, isoprene, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, notes Banzhaf. The FDA has also reported that e-cigarettes pose “acute health risks” which “cannot seriously be questioned” because they contain “toxic chemicals,” and the devices also “present a serious risk of addicting new users, including children.”
Not long ago, USA Today reported on a variety of dangers presented by e-cigarettes, including damage to the lungs of users, and potential hazards to bystanders forced to inhale the nicotine-laden vapors.
It also reported: "'There's a danger e-cigarettes could lure in kids who might not otherwise smoke,' says anti-smoking activist John Banzhaf, a professor at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. He pushed for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate them." According to this new study by the CDC, this prediction has now come true.
Banzhaf has said that e-cigarettes are just like candy cigarettes, only on steroids. Instead of pre-teens pretending to smoke their candy cigarettes, teens can now buy and use products which actually delivers a powerful jolt or fix of the highly addictive drug nicotine, while at the same time seeming to puff smoke.
“These candy cigarettes on steroids are much more dangerous than the old candy cigarettes because they deliver doses of nicotine sufficiently strong enough to begin to addict teen users after only a few days of use, and because the user actually appears to be inhaling real ‘smoke,” argues Banzhaf.
The FDA has warned the public that e-cigarettes contain various toxic, mutagenic, carcinogenic, and genotoxic chemicals, and that e-cigarette cartridges containing the nicotine and other toxic chemicals, many of which come from China, are subject to "none of the manufacturing controls required for FDA-approved nicotine-delivery products" [like nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, etc.]. Indeed, it is believed that some of the dangerous metals contained in the vapor given off by e-cigarettes comes from the soldering used in manufacturing the product.
In addition to nicotine and propylene glycol, the FDA reported that it found in samples of e-cigarettes a variety of "toxic and carcinogenic chemicals" including diethylene glycol, "an ingredient used in antifreeze, [which] is toxic to humans"; "certain tobacco-specific nitrosamines which are human carcinogens"; and that "tobacco-specific impurities suspected of being harmful to humans – anabasine, myosmine, and nicotyrine – were detected in a majority of the samples tested."
The regulatory agency also reported that: e-cigarette users suffer from a wide variety of potentially serious symptoms "including racing pulse, dizziness, slurred speech, mouth ulcers, heartburn, coughing, diarrhea, and sore throat"; "nicotine [one of the two major chemicals used in the product] in high doses can be dangerous and even fatal"; and that the toxic chemical diethylene glycol was found in the e-cigarettes which were tested.
Many other organizations have also warned about the dangers of e-cigarettes to both users and bystanders forced to inhale the vapors they generate. These organizations include the Mayo Clinic, Consumer Reports, and the Association for the Treatment of Tobacco Use and Dependence.
The American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and the American Heart Association have been very critical of this new product, and asked that it be regulated if not banned. The American Legacy Foundation has urged in a policy statement that "The FDA Should Take Electronic Cigarettes Off The Market Until It Is Satisfied That They Are Safe and Effective."
While the FDA has had jurisdiction over e-cigarettes for many years, it has yet to adopt any regulatory standards or take any other action, which is the major reason why state and local legislatures should not hesitate to act on their own, argues Banzhaf.
Many countries have banned the sale of such products, or imposed severe restrictions on their sale and advertising, essentially treating them as drugs or drug delivery devices. Indeed, notes Banzhaf, the purpose of the devices is to deliver nicotine, a drug now known to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine, and which can contribute to heart attacks in both smokers and nonsmokers by restricting the flow of blood through vessels and raising both pulse and blood pressure. Indeed, more smokers are killed by heart attacks than by lung cancer, in part because of the nicotine they inhale.
Several U.S. jurisdictions, tired of waiting for action by the FDA, have themselves banned the sale of the product to children and/or their use by anyone where smoking is banned.
The EU and the W.H.O. are also moving to strictly regulate, if not ban, the product.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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