In a press release issued last week, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) claims that the importation of electronic cigarettes has been banned indefinitely. ASH claims: "The importation of e-cigarettes will be banned indefinitely as the result of a unanimous ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals." ASH is supporting federal and state action to ban electronic cigarettes.
At the same time, the American Lung Association in Illinois, which is supporting a state bill that would ban electronic cigarette sales, claimed in a newspaper article: "We don't know what is in that vapor."
The Rest of the Story
Both ASH and the American Lung Association are using misleading claims to support bans on electronic cigarettes.
Let's take ASH's claim first. While it is true that the FDA seized two shipments of electronic cigarettes, it is not true that the Agency has placed a ban on the importation of electronic cigarettes. To the best of my knowledge, these products continue to be imported and sold throughout the country. The FDA has certainly threatened to take enforcement action, but it has stopped short of formally banning the importation of the product, and to my knowledge, is not stopping these products from entering the country.
Now let's take the American Lung Association's claim. It is simply not true that we don't know what is in the electronic cigarette vapor. The product has been studied extensively in the laboratory and there are numerous laboratory studies which report the content of electronic cigarette cartridges and/or vapor.
If the American Lung Association wants to examine these reports and then make a public claim about what constituent in the product it believes is putting people at great risk, then fine. But to speak out of ignorance like this, not having examined the scientific evidence, is a disservice to the American public and to the public's health.
What bothers me the most about the anti-smoking movement's charge against electronic cigarettes is that it is not evidence-based. If these groups were well-informed about the product, if they examined the scientific evidence, if they read all the laboratory reports, and then they concluded that there are specific chemicals which produce high enough exposure, and they named those chemicals, then that would be one thing. But to promote banning a product when they are unable to make a single specific suggestion of what component they believe poses great risk to the public is irresponsible, especially when the product has been studied and we do know the chemicals that have been identified.
The bottom line is that the studies of electronic cigarettes have revealed that the primary constituents of the vapor are propylene glycol, glycerin, and nicotine. Other minor constituents have been detected but other than diethylene glycol (which has only been detected in one brand of electronic cigarettes), none of them have been shown to pose any significant risk to e-cigarette users.
It is the loss of the science-base in tobacco control that is most disturbing to me. Policy must be evidence-based, not based purely on speculation or even worse, ideology, politics, or financial conflict of interest.