The Future of E-Cigarette Regulation

From: RegBlog  (University of Pennsylvania/Penn Program on Regulation)

Lauren-Kelly Devine

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, provide a water vapor-powered alternative to traditional smoking that may help users drop the unhealthy habit.  But, in light of the recent finding that use among middle and high school students is rapidly increasing, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has indicated that a new regulatory regime to manage these novel products more effectively is on the horizon.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered products that deliver nicotine to the user through an aerosol.  The e-cigarette applies heat to a solution containing nicotine and other additives, producing a water vapor that the user inhales.  As e-cigarettes may contain fewer chemicals than traditional cigarettes and rely on water-based delivery method, tobacco companies have successfully marketed them as a safer alternative that can help users quit smoking altogether.  While the FDA emphasizes that the products have not be sufficiently studied to support such health claims, a recent independent research study found that the products may be effective in facilitating smoking cessation.

Fueled by star-studded advertising campaigns and the successful marketing message that “it’s O.K. to smoke again,” the e-cigarette industry has boomed in recent years.  However, following the announcement of recent findings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regulators are now concerned that the industry is profiting from a surge in middle and high school-aged users.

Observers have expressed concern that the marketing tactics employed by e-cigarette producers effectively “re-glamorize” smoking in a way that particularly attracts young users.  Matthew L. Mayers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, explains, “[i]t is beyond troubling that e-cigarettes are using the exact same marketing tactics we saw the tobacco industry use in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, which made it so effective for tobacco products to reach youth.”

According to the CDC study, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students has doubled in recent years. Based on student surveys, the percentage of high school students who had tried e-cigarettes increased from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10.0 percent in 2012.  Middle school students reported a similar trend, as their usage increased from 3.3 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent in 2012.  The results of the 2013 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey reflect a similar upswing in usage. Further, while most high school students indicate that they have experimented with both traditional and e-cigarettes, an increasing number of middle school students reported trying e-cigarettes only.

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