E-CIGARETTES FALL INTO REGULATORY GRAY AREA

Do e-cigarettes help people quit their traditional counterparts or get more people to start smoking?Over the past few decades, there has been a nearly global push to get people to stop smoking. Government campaigns, higher taxes on cigarettes and advocacy efforts by health groups have all contributed to an overall reduction in the harmful habit.

However, the recent rise of e-cigarettes and other inhalable nicotine products has complicated the issue. And with that new wave of products, governments and health organizations the world over are trying to decide how they should be regulated.

Teens taking up e-cigarettes

On Thursday, Nov. 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that found use of e-cigarettes, cigars and hookahs was up substantially among teenagers in the U.S.

According to the CDC, from 2011 to 2012, use of e-cigarettes nearly doubled among middle and high school students.1 That number is especially disturbing since there is the fear that e-cigarettes will get young people addicted to nicotine, which could lead to them smoking traditional cigarettes when they get older. The Washington Post notes that approximately 90 percent of all smokers took up the habit when they were in their teens.

Smokers turn to e-cigarettes as alternative

On the other side of the debate, there are the lifelong smokers who have switched to e-cigarettes as a way to wean themselves off of tobacco. And that group has become a vocal advocate for keeping the products easily available.

The European Union recently voted not to regulate e-cigarettes as medicinal products, like they do for nicotine patches, based primarily on lobbying from e-cigarette enthusiasts, also known as “Vapers.”2

U.S. set to regulate e-cigarettes

Despite the European Union’s ruling, local, state and federal agencies are starting to crack down on e-cigarette use. In Evanston, Ill., for instance, they have been put under the same restrictions as regular cigarettes.3

According to the Chicago Tribune, it appears the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is on the cusp of declaring e-cigarettes a “tobacco product,” which would give the agency leverage to regulate them the same way it does traditional smoking products.

Impact on medical professionals
Whether you’re a physician, certified medical assistant, dental assistant or pharmacy technician, the current regulatory limbo over e-cigarettes can make advising patients difficult.

On the one hand, they appear safer than cigarettes. On the other, you never want to suggest that people engage in potentially harmful behavior. The hope is that as the FDA evaluates the data, and more information is learned about the long-term effects of e-cigarettes, clearer guidelines will become available.

1 St. George, Donna, “E-cigarettes Gain Attention in Schools Amid Rise in Popularity,” Washington Post, Nov. 14, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/e-cigarettes-gain-attention-in-schools-amid-rise-in-popularity/2013/11/14/96dc4774-46ff-11e3-a196-3544a03c2351_story.html
2 Higgins, Andrew, “Aided by Army of ‘Vapers,’ E-cigarette Industry Woos and Wins Europe,” New York Times, Nov. 9, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/world/europe/aided-by-army-of-vapers-e-cigarette-industry-woos-and-wins-europe.html?_r=0
3 Keilman, John; Smith, Mitch, “Regulation Push Catching Up With E-cigarettes,” Chicago Tribune, Nov. 15, 2013. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-electronic-cigarettes-20131115,0,5010760.story

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