The proposed regulation of e-cigarettes—battery-operated devices that vaporise liquid nicotine—by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) doesn’t bode too well for public health. The proposed regulation makes it mandatory for all “newly deemed” tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, hookah, pipe tobacco, nicotine gel among others, to register with the FDA and list their ingredients apart from being subject to the same stringent controls as a regular cigarette. This would require the e-cigarette makers and vendors to comply with rules on sale, especially where under-age nicotine-users are concerned. For instance, if the rules were to eventually apply, vending machines can’t stock e-cigs just as they can’t stock regular ones, except in places where entry to minors is prohibited. While advocates say that the controls would help check under-age smoking, the outlook could be a little more complicated than that—the restrictions, in fact, are more likely to deny access for nicotine-users to a relatively less harmful alternative to the regular cigarette.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five deaths everyday in the country is tobacco-related, mostly from lung cancer. While regular-cigarette smokers inhale copious amounts of tar—the bulk of which is a spectrum of suspended carcinogens, from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and N-nitrosamines to aldehydes and vaporised metals—along with nicotine, e-cig smokers inhale vaporised nicotine only. It is no one’s case that tobacco-use need not be curbed. However, given that nearly a quarter of all male high school students in the US—and over 15% of the female students—reported some form of habitual nicotine use, the problem of under-age tobacco use will only be exacerbated if a less damaging alternative is no longer available to these high-schoolers.