Written for The Argus Observer. Printed on August 23, 2015.
PAYETTE, IDAHO— The evolution of electronic nicotine devices, commonly known as e-cigarettes, has left the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a cloud of dust — or vapor — and now the agency is struggling to regulate the growing industry.
According to Michael Felberbaum, press officer for the FDA, the administration is researching all aspects of e-cigarettes and is pushing new rules that would extend the agency’s authority to regulate “additional products that meet the legal definition of a tobacco product.”
“Under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed by the president in 2009, FDA can deem additional tobacco products to be subject to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act,” Felberbaum said.
That means the agency could extend its regulations to things like nicotine patches or drinks, and electronic cigarettes.
A rule proposed in April 2014 would include those less traditional nicotine delivery systems under the FDA’s regulatory umbrella, Felberbaum said.
The next step in finalizing that rule was an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, released in July. The notice asks for data, research and other information from the public on novelty nicotine delivery systems, and is open for comment until the end of September.
“The FDA values the public’s input and will consider all information submitted to help the agency make the best decisions about possible regulatory actions,” Felberbaum said.
Laws by state
If the FDA is able to regulate e-cigarettes and other smokeless nicotine delivery systems, they would be subject to the same rules as traditional cigarettes. That means manufacturers of e-juice or liquid nicotine would have to submit a list of ingredients to the FDA, include health warnings on their labels, not sell or market products to minors, and keep their products out of vending machines that could be accessed by minors.
Currently in both Oregon and Idaho, it’s against the law for anyone under the age of 18 to buy electronic cigarettes or e-juice — even the kinds that contain no nicotine.
In Oregon, those over the age of 18 can use e-cigarettes in businesses, restaurants and bars that haven’t banned them from the premises until Jan. 1.
The rules were changed this past May. House Bill 2546 expanded the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act to include the use of “inhalant delivery systems.” That means after Jan. 1, Oregonians can’t use electronic smoking devices in workplaces, restaurants, bars or other indoor public places.
In Idaho, there aren’t any restrictions on where people can vape, but individual businesses can make their own rules should they choose to do so.
Bob and Beverly Miller, who own Canyon Vaporizers in Payette, said new regulations on e-juice and electronic nicotine devices could put a kink in the industry, but they are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
“If they change the regulations on e-juices, we’ll follow the new rules,” Bob said. “As far as where you can vape, we tell people, if you wouldn’t smoke there, don’t vape there.”
Are they healthy?
Most e-juice has four ingredients: vegetable glycerine, propylene glycol, flavoring and nicotine.
Both vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol are in foods such as ice cream and prepackaged baked goods. Flavorings are made from a mixture of different chemicals that mimic a specific flavor, like cotton candy or apple.
“Sometimes companies add other things, like caffeine or sweeteners,” Beverly said. “All of those ingredients, individually, have been approved by the FDA.”
Josh Levitt, a physician with Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario, said there isn’t very much information on how those ingredients react with the body in vapor form.
“Propylene glycol, or glycerine, when they’re heated or aerosolized, they might cause problems with the respiratory tract,” Levitt said. “We don’t know.”
Secondhand vapor is also a big question when it comes to e-cigarettes.
“I would venture to say there’s still secondhand vapor,” Levitt said. “Whatever the person is smoking, they’ll breathe it out. One time I allowed a patient to use it in my room, and I got a huge headache from the nicotine in the air.”
Why people use vaporizers
Beverly Miller said there are many reasons for using a vaporizer.
“A lot of people use them as a substitute for regular cigarettes or to quit smoking, but there’s more to it than that,” she said. “People use them for stress control and for weight management.”
Her husband used vaporizers to quit smoking.
“I was a smoker for 27 years,” Bob Miller said. “I went from smoking two packs a day to vaping, and I stopped wheezing, I sleep better, and I can go out and play with my kids longer.”
Eventually those who use e-cigarettes can step down to e-juice that is completely nicotine free, if that is their goal.
“We’d tried to quit cigarettes before,” Beverly Miller said, “but we weren’t successful. Using the vape, I quit regular cigarettes in four days.”
Levitt said his patients who use vaporizers most often do so in order to quit smoking.
“If you’re trying to cut back, it’s similar to doing nicotine gum or a patch,” Levitt said.
He said he has seen the rate of vaporizer use increasing among current and past smokers, but “former or current smokers don’t appear to be getting off [nicotine] any faster.”
“It doesn’t appear that [e-cigarettes] are making people start to smoke, so that’s good,” Levitt said.