Is it time to regulate e-cigarettes just like tobacco?

Despite the growing base of literature on the dangers, e-cigarette and vaping use is on the rise, especially among young people. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced tougher rules to treat e-cigarettes in much the same way as other tobacco products are regulated under the Tobacco Control Act of 2009. The biggest impact under the new rule is to ban sales to children. However, eight states—Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina Nevada, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming have taken a more affirmative step and enacted laws that categorize e-cigarettes as tobacco products. California recently joined the pack when Governor Brown signed into legislation a similar law designating e-cigarettes as tobacco products. In California this means that use is barred in many public and private places including at work, schools, and public transit areas. In addition, some local laws in California ban tobacco products from beaches and at entrances to private businesses, such as near hotel entrances. Under the new law, which goes into effect June 9th, all vaping products—including the candy-flavored liquids—must also be sold in childproof packaging. Brown also passed legislation upping the smoking age to 21 years.

It seems intuitive to classify a nicotine product as a tobacco product when through inhaling it sends an addictive chemical smoke into the lungs. An e-cigarette uses nicotine, which is derived from tobacco, and, although it doesn’t “burn” the tobacco plant, it functions in a similar way to cigarettes. Tobacco products are not regulated because they use this plant; they are regulated because of the physical effects and danger of that use.

The e-cigarette industry, which includes tobacco companies, strongly opposes regulation and is funding campaigns to protect the new multi-billion dollar sector. E-cigarette use tripled from 2013 to 2014 and studies suggest more exponential growth if use is unfettered by tobacco laws. Small businesses are particularly outspoken because, according to critics, tobacco regulation review applications can cost upwards of a $1 million.

Manufacturers and distributors continue to insist e-cigarettes and vaping products are safe—“it is only “water vapor” that happens to contain nicotine.” This argument seems to belie evidence of health risks, including new reports of lung damage from the chemical compounds. It also fails to address the growing number of injuries from explosions of the product delivery system. We’ve heard this story before when big guns in the tobacco industry argued that tobacco was safe—a claim long ago proven to be false and self-serving.

Nicotine is poisonous and addictive—thus regulation. Youth are impressionable—thus regulation. Chemical compounds introduced into the lungs are damaging—thus regulation. With these facts in hand, isn’t it apparent that the products should be regulated for public health and safety?

If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of an e-cigarette or vaping device, you should seek immediate medical attention and the skills of an experienced attorney. This is especially important because the long-term health risks from using vaping products are not yet completely known.