Unregulated E-Cigarettes Not as Safe as Marketed

The following op-ed appeared in the May 30 edition of the (Wilmington) News Journal.

By Reps. Debra Heffernan and Deborah Hudson

Stop us when this sounds familiar. Billion-dollar companies peddling nicotine delivery devices assure us that the vapors emanating from their products have no adverse effects on the people using them, nor on those around the users.

Decades ago, cigarette manufacturers denied that secondhand smoke posed a serious health risk, fighting against and slowing efforts to protect the public. Today, companies that manufacture electronic cigarettes boast that their products are safer alternatives to regular cigarettes that only emit water vapor into the air. Some say that there is no evidence that these e-cigarettes are nearly as harmful as their predecessors.

These claims were made during a recent House committee hearing on legislation we introduced to bring e-cigarettes under Delaware’s 2002 Clean Indoor Air Act. House Bill 309 would effectively prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in most indoor public places. Opponents temporarily halted progress of this important public health bill, and we feel it is necessary to address some of the arguments made with facts.

HB 309 does not ban e-cigarettes. We have seen this in comments and posts about the bill, and it needs to be stated clearly that in no way does HB 309 affect the sale of e-cigarettes. It only limits where they can be used in public. Right now, someone can pull out an e-cigarette in a crowded restaurant and puff away. Nobody is saying you can’t use e-cigarettes. We’re just asking that you be respectful and not infringe on the clean air other people breathe – the same thing we have asked of cigarette smokers for the last 12 years.

E-cigarettes are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Any claims made about how these devices are safe and emit only ‘harmless water vapor’ are not backed up or evaluated by the FDA. They are claims made by the manufacturers, who stand to profit more if their product is marketed as a safe alternative to cigarettes. The FDA is proposing a new rule to regulate e-cigarettes, but that is much further down the line.

Contrary to what some have said, there is scientific evidence that refutes claims that e-cigarettes are harmless. University of California San Francisco scientists issued the first comprehensive analysis of e-cigarettes this month, which shows that industry health claims are unsupported by data. The study determined that toxins and nicotine have been measured in the vapor people exhale, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acetic acid and other dangerous substances. A study that resembled a smoky bar found that nonsmokers had negatively affected lung function and absorbed nicotine from their short-term exposure to e-cigarette vapor – which sound an awful lot like the effects of secondhand smoke.

E-cigarettes are clearly being marketed toward a younger crowd – consider the various flavors that are available – with manufacturers spending $39 million on ads in a six-month span last year, according to anti-tobacco organization Legacy. The group found that e-cigarette television ads reached nearly 30 million teens and young adults last year, including 58 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds.

This is especially troubling because tobacco companies are prohibited from marketing their traditional products like this, so they are now buying or manufacturing e-cigarettes and marketing them to teens and young people to skirt those laws and bolster sales. Of course they are going to oppose any legislation placing restrictions on e-cigarettes or connecting them to regular tobacco products – their bottom line is at stake.

Delaware has been down this difficult road before. In 2002, we wrestled with legislation to prohibit smoking in most indoor public places. We were told that restaurants, bars and casinos would close down, that we were infringing on people’s freedoms. Lobbyists lined up against the bill and fought us every step of the way.

But Delaware became the second state to pass such a bill. Today, restaurants, bars and casinos remain open for business, and 36 states have some form of a smoking ban for indoor public places. Many Delawareans can barely remember a time when their dinner would be ruined by someone lighting up nearby or coming home with their clothes and hair smelling like smoke.

As e-cigarettes become more popular, the issue of people using them in restaurants and bars is bound to become more common – as will the concern about the health risk they present. Let Delaware be a leader like we were in 2002 and do what is right to protect the health of our citizens.