FDA Pushing for Regulation of E-Cigarettes

The debate over the safety of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes as most people call them, has been sparked once again in light of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent announcement that it is considering a new rule that would re-classify the devices as tobacco products.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that are designed to look like regular tobacco-filled cigarettes. Instead of lighting up, however, an atomizer within the device heats a liquid containing nicotine and that liquid is transformed into a vapor that is inhaled by the user. Current types of electronic cigarettes that are on the market include “blu,” “Njoy,” and “V2.” If such products are re-classified as tobacco products, these devices and others like them would be subject to the same federal oversight as traditional cigarettes.
As it stands now, there are no state or federal laws that prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in public places, though a number of communities and smaller jurisdictions – such as cities and public school districts – have adopted or are considering bans or regulations of the products.

Maryland’s Prince George’s County recently delayed a vote on an out-right ban of the devices as officials there await a University of Maryland study. Maryland state officials have already banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and Washington, DC council members are considering a similar ban in the district.

That has ignited the fears of e-cigarette manufacturers, who have long claimed their products are a safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes and who are now rallying in staunch opposition to the FDA’s proposed new rule. Such oversight would not only mean drastically increased manufacturing costs — which would be passed on to their customers — and the possibility of further taxation, it would also likely lead to more stringent safety requirements — such as warning labels — that the industry has largely avoided.

The FDA, however, has questioned manufacturers’ claims in light of its recent analysis of two popular brands. The federal analysis found that in addition to nicotine, the devices also produced toxic chemicals — including known cancer-causing substances called carcinogens — when used by smokers. That finding prompted a public warning earlier this year from the federal agency.

Studies have been cited by those on both sides of the debate, with some e-cigarette proponents saying evidence suggests e-cigarettes help reduced the desire to smoke, and opponents countering with a different set of data that suggest e-cigarettes lack needed regulation, such as health warnings, proper labeling, and clear instructions on how to safely use and dispose of the devices.

Because there is no definitive answer to the safety debate most medical professionals stress caution with the use of such products. Since a number of electronic cigarette user’s state the desire to quit or reduce their smoking habit as the impetus for their purchase of an e-cigarette device, many physicians – including the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Lowell Dale – are pointing their patients in the direction of medications and other treatment methods that have already received FDA-approval as safe options for kicking a smoking addiction.

Clearly further research and study is needed to determine the risks that such devices may pose. Still, some instances of injury have already been documented, including a Mount Pleasant mom who said her malfunctioning e-cigarette exploded last September, causing her three-year-old son’s car seat to catch fire and leaving the child with first- and second-degree burns.

A report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last week showed the popularity for such products among the nation’s middle and high school students nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012. That troubled researchers because they worry such devices could lead to nicotine addiction in youth and nicotine has been shown to interfere with adolescent brain development, according to the CDC.

While the debate is far from over regarding the safety or risk of such devices, those who have sustained an injury – such as the burns suffered by that local toddler – as a result of a defective products are still left to suffer severe consequences and are entitled to recovery for a variety of reasons, including medical bills, permanent disfigurement, lost wages, pain and suffering, and mental anguish. If you live in Maryland and have been hurt due to a product put on the marketplace, notwithstanding a manufacturing defect, a design defect or an inadequate consumer warning, you should contact a skilled products liability attorney for a free consultation. An experienced Maryland personal injury lawyer can help you move through the claims process with the at-fault company and their insurer, letting you focus on your recovery.