The New York State Assembly has voted overwhelmingly 125-0 to ban e-cigarettes [e-cigs]; a product which has already been banned in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, and New Zealand, restricted in Finland, Malaysia, and Singapore, pending restriction in the UK as a drug, and the subject of law suits by attorneys general in several states, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
The decision followed an email sent by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) to New Yorkâ€™s legislators seeking to correct misinformation they apparently received from marketers and others. ASH previously helped persuade New Jersey and Suffolk County, NY, to ban the use of e-cigarettes in no-smoking sections.
ASHâ€™s email noted that the FDA, the only agency both authorized and qualified to evaluate whether e-cigs are both safe and effective, has reported that e-cig use poses “acute health risks,” that “the dangers posed by their toxic chemicals . . . cannot seriously be questioned,” and that e-cigs have caused a wide variety of potentially serious problems “including racing pulse, dizziness, slurred speech, mouth ulcers, heartburn, coughing, diarrhea, and sore throat.” It ruled they are “illegal”
Virtually all of the major national and well-respected medical and antismoking organizations have also voiced strong concerns about the risks posed by e-cigarettes, and urged restrictions on their sales. These include the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Americans for Nonsmokersâ€™ Rights, and the Association for the Treatment of Tobacco Use and Dependence.
ASH also pointed out that the FDA, in its own words, “is concerned that electronic cigarettes, cigars, or pipes may introduce young people to nicotine use which may lead to an increase in the use of conventional tobacco products with well-known, adverse, health consequences. Additionally, it is unclear what health effects these products could have on users or if misuse or product failure could lead to nicotine poisoning or other serious adverse health consequences.”
The FDA also warned that “conference participants stressed the importance of parents being aware of the health and marketing concerns associated with e-cigarettes. It was stated that parents may want to tell their children and teenagers that these products are not safe to use. . . . Of particular concern to parents is that e-cigarettes are sold without any legal age restrictions, and are available in different flavors (such as chocolate, strawberry and mint) which may appeal to young people. . . . In addition, the devices do not contain any health warnings comparable to FDA-approved nicotine replacement products or conventional cigarettes.”
Although some users claim that the products helped them to quit smoking, ASH countered by citing the FDAâ€™s own findings: “at this time, we are not aware of any data establishing electronic cigarettes, cigars, or pipes as generally recognized among scientific experts as safe and effective. . . . There may be a perception among some users that electronic cigarettes, cigars, or pipes are safer alternatives to conventional tobacco products. There may also be a perception that these products are a safe and effective means to quit smoking conventional forms of tobacco. However, FDA is not aware of any scientific data to support those perceptions.”
Michael Eriksen, ScD, the former director of CDCâ€™s Office of Smoking and Health and an FDA adviser warned: “I have seen no evidence that people switch from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes or other smokeless tobacco products. If you look at how smokeless products are marketed, they are sold as something to use at times you canâ€™t smoke. The implication is you will increase nicotine exposure, not reduce smoking,”
ASH also raised concerns not yet addressed by the FDA: the extent to which the vapor exhaled by e-cig users — including propylene glycol (a respiratory irritant used in antifreeze and known to cause respiratory tract infections), nicotine (a deadly and addictive drug which can help trigger heart attacks), and other substances the FDA labels as “carcinogens” and “toxins” — could threaten the health of nearby nonsmokers.
ASH cited a typical reaction from a sensitive bystander: “My first exposure to e-cigarettes was last year in a hospital. Smokers were made to go outside but 3 e-smokers plus 2 staff were using the e-cigarettes inside . . . I have lupus and the vapor irritated my nose, eyes, throat, and chest, plus the nicotine was making me feel nauseous so there must have been significant quantities in the side-vapor.”
ASH, Americaâ€™s first antismoking organization, and the one which started the nonsmokersâ€™ rights movement by first getting smoking restricted and ultimately banned on airplanes and in many public places, believes that nonsmokers should not be subjected to the vapors emitted by e-cig users unless and until they have conclusively been shown to be completely safe, even to children, the elderly, those at increased risk, and those with special medical problems.
Public interest law professor John Banzhaf of ASH, argues that there is no possible justification for subjecting the great majority of Americans who are nonsmokers to the totally unnecessary risks posed by a mixture of toxins and carcinogens. Even if e-cigarettes did help some smokers quit — which the FDA denies — “itâ€™s your monkey, keep him off my back.”
PROFESSOR JOHN F. BANZHAF III
Professor of Public Interest Law at GWU,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
FELLOW, World Technology Network, and
Executive Director and Chief Counsel
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
Americaâ€™s First Antismoking Organization
2013 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006, USA
(202) 659-4310 // (703) 527-8418