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Michael Smerconish

Michael Smerconish | Philadelphia Inquirer

Next month, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue proposed regulations for e-cigarettes. Having been exposed to them during the summer, I’m hoping the rules are not overly restrictive.

My sister-in-law, with whom we traveled to Italy in June, is a pack-a-day smoker. In Perugia, she discovered a small vendor selling e-cigarettes. Her purchase was my introduction to e-cigs, or personal vaporizers, as they are known, or electronic nicotine delivery systems.

What I saw was a cartridge with a reservoir and a mouthpiece. A battery heats a liquid solution (which often includes nicotine), and an atomizer facilitates vaporizing. They look like fancy cigarettes, some with LED lights at the tip that resemble a conventional light. However, much to the relief of those in the company of someone “vaping,” e-cigs don’t produce smoke. They emit a mist that quickly disappears without a trace.

My sister-in-law argues that e-cigs are safer than cigarettes, can help you cut down or eliminate the habit and don’t produce secondhand smoke. Detractors say that they attract new (potentially young) smokers and that the ones with nicotine still have an addictive quality.

E-cigs still are so new that my spell-check default thinks I am typing e-digs. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that sales in 2011 doubled from 2010. (It’s troublesome that teen usage has spiked.) And Big Tobacco sees the future. Altria, parent of Philip Morris USA and manufacturer of Marlboros, has premiered the MarkTen e-cig. R.J. Reynolds, maker of Camels, has the Vuse e-cig. And Lorillard (think Newports) owns blu eCigs.

Into this debate will soon step the Food and Drug Administration, which could decide whether to ban e-cigs that are flavored, permit advertising, require warning labels, impose age restrictions and demand premarket approval.

Azim Chowdhury, a Washington attorney who specializes in food and drug law, agrees that e-cigs, which don’t burn tobacco, are less harmful than conventional cigarettes.

“One thing the FDA should address is the need for good manufacturing practices and quality-control standards for the ingredients used in e-liquid,” he told me last week. “These are necessary to ensure those ingredients are free of trace impurities, which could pose health hazards.”

Chowdhury said e-cigs were developed in 2003 by a Chinese company and introduced in the United States three or four years later. In 2009, with the enactment of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the FDA was given the authority to regulate tobacco. The FDA could also “deem” other tobacco-based products to be within its jurisdiction, as long as there is a rule-making process.

Some e-cigs qualify because the nicotine used in “e-liquid” is derived from tobacco. E-cigs without nicotine, or those with nicotine from nontobacco sources, aren’t covered under the FDA’s tobacco authority.

Research as to safety of e-cigs is thin, according to Andrew Strasser, the director of the Biobehavioral Smoking Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

“It’s a newer product, and the definitive clinical trials have not been conducted and there’s been some smaller-scale studies that have been done, but the results are kind of all over the place,” he said. “There are some reports that there’s a reduction in cigarette smoking when people adopt e-cigarettes. And there’s some support that some people will quit smoking, but at the same time there are some studies that show that people quit even with a very low-nicotine or no-nicotine cartridge, so a lot more has to be done.”

Strasser acknowledges the anecdotal evidence from those like my sister-in-law, who say they’ve been able to abstain from conventional cigarettes after trying e-cigs. Still, he said, “the real clinical trials have not been conducted yet.” In the meantime, he concedes that the presumption is that e-cigs are not as harmful as conventional cigarettes.

It would be best if everyone just quit. For years, my sister-in-law has tried. However, she is down to half a pack per day, filling the void with e-cigs, which are seemingly less harmful, don’t stink and don’t imperil others. It is hoped the FDA will not impede what seems to be helping.

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(4) comments


With all due respect Napoleon, you can put drugs in just about everything you use, from food to drinks to every day items.Just stating the facts here.

Now to the reason I write this, I was a a pack and half smoker since I was 18 years old, now 42 and I was old enough to buy them before the law changed. I have been analog or real cigarette free for over 220 days now thanks to E-cigs and I have not wanted nor have I picked up a real cig, do not even care for one. Granted I still use liquid with nicotine in it, BUT! since I started vaping I have cut down over 90% of the nicotine I put in my body and now down to 6mg to 0mg nicotine per millimeter, where as a real one has 30 - 60 mg per. Now the next question someone will say, "Why don't you just quit?" Yea, why don't I, but, you know what, I enjoy the flavors that I can get with my vape. Vape is the terminology we E-cig users call it, we do not call it smoking since there is no smoke. Personally from experience, it works and I enjoy it.


I quit smoking using electronic cigarettes (although I did go back to smoking after about one year). The e-cigarettes did not become a replacement, but rather were a crutch when I had cravings. I'd take a few puffs which satisfied my cravings for a few hours and within a couple weeks I had quit altogether. The e-cigarettes weren't all that great so they were pretty easy to put aside.


I am a pack a day smoker who wishes she had never started. That being said, I did use the e-cigarette this past winter while attempting to quit. I have to say that it helped me a great deal.
Because cigarettes are so expensive, a smoker is much more likely to puff away on the entire thing to get their money's worth. I could take a couple puffs of my e-cig and be satisfied and know that I wasn't "wasting" my money. I wasn't successful at quitting completely, but the e-cig did help me cut down to less than a half pack per day.


E-cigs are a Trojan Horse for more nicotine addiction, not less. Soon users will discover that you can put drugs in those things too.

Be careful what you wish for, you might get it!

"Battery-operated nicotine inhalers can be just as addictive as the real thing."

"Teenagers are particularly vulnerable. Despite the industry's well-worn insistence that e-cigarettes are for adults only, teen use has taken off — not accidentally. E-cigarettes come in flavors, from traditional menthol to cherry and piña colada."

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