The Uncertainties About E-Cigarettes

In “Can E-Cigarettes Save Lives?” (column, Oct. 17), Joe Nocera expresses certainty about the health benefits of e-cigarettes and argues that it is time to “forget about the F.D.A.” in regulating these products.

Whether e-cigarettes can reduce the number of Americans who die from tobacco use is far from certain. E-cigarettes may reduce the risk of disease for addicted cigarette smokers, but any benefit will come only if they are shown to be effective at helping smokers stop using cigarettes completely and if they are marketed so they do not re-glamorize smoking among young people. These goals can be achieved only through effective oversight by the Food and Drug Administration, not by circumventing it.

The concern about youth use is serious. In 2013, over a quarter of a million youths who had never smoked a cigarette had used e-cigarettes.

For more than 75 years, the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act has required manufacturers, including manufacturers of products that claim to help people quit smoking, to present their scientific evidence to the F.D.A. To our knowledge, not one e-cigarette manufacturer has done so.

The 2009 law giving the F.D.A. authority over tobacco products also sets out common-sense standards to govern the relative safety claims of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. No other manufacturer of products regulated by the F.D.A. is allowed to make safety claims without first conducting the science to demonstrate the accuracy of their statements; neither should e-cigarette makers.

The skyrocketing youth use and irresponsible marketing of e-cigarettes show what happens in the absence of meaningful rules. To realize any potential benefits of e-cigarettes and minimize their risks, the Obama administration must promptly issue an effective final rule asserting F.D.A. authority over e-cigarettes.



Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids


To the Editor:

As a tobacco control researcher, I was alarmed by Joe Nocera’s failure to acknowledge the lack of research regarding e-cigarettes as cessation devices and the high usage of e-cigarettes among American youth. While e-cigarettes may present fewer health risks than traditional cigarettes, there is little evidence that e-cigarettes are effective in helping smokers quit. In fact, several studies have shown that even after a year of e-cigarette use, smokers were no more likely to have quit smoking.

Furthermore, e-cigarettes could encourage tobacco use among nonsmokers — namely youth. In just one year — from 2013 to 2014 — e-cigarette usetripled among American youth, with 13.4 percent of high school students now using e-cigarettes.

With flavors like bubble gum and cotton candy, e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among American youth. As nicotine is highly addictive and can detrimentally affect adolescent brain development, e-cigarettes have the potential to undermine the last 50-plus years of progress in tobacco control and disease prevention.


Chapel Hill, N.C.

The writer is a fellow for health policy at the Roosevelt Institute.

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