E-Cigarette Trend Will Likely Subside After Federal and State Regulation Weighs In

George David Kidd, MJLST Managing Editor

Who could have predicted that development of better portable-battery technology would unleash such a radical transformation of tobacco consumption? By vaporizing nicotine-infused water vapor via the e-cigarette, the new trend, called “vaping,” has certainly turned a few heads. Not only has the use of electronic cigarettes doubled among middle and high school students from 2011-2012, but Bloomberg Industries predicts that the sale of electronic cigarettes might surpass the sale of other tobacco products by 2023. As of 2014, e-cigarette sales are still growing rapidly. Bold predictions in e-cigarette sales growth, however, fail to take into account the role that tobacco regulation will play in discouraging the trend. Federal and state regulations have yet to definitively weigh in on the issue.

Despite its announced plans to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products in 2011, the FDA has not yet taken action. Future FDA regulation will almost certainly be modeled upon current tobacco regulation to the extent that e-cigarettes are comparable to combustible tobacco products. For example, nicotine is still addictive. It can still be dangerous for those with heart problems and might cause other cardiovascular ailments over time. Those who stop the consumption of nicotine may face withdrawal symptoms that could include irritability, depression, restlessness, and anxiety. However, e-cigarette vapor avoids consumption of carcinogenic chemicals in smoke that are released by the combustion process.

To the extent current federal tobacco regulations are concerned with the direct consumer consequences of smoking, such as the disclosure of ingredients, labeling requirements, and ingredient quality, FDA regulation of e-cigarettes will closely mirror that of traditional tobacco products. Consequently, quality-control procedures and required labeling will only serve to increase the cost of e-cigarettes to consumers, and discourage sales.

State laws, such as those discussed in Smokers: Nuisances in Belmont City, California–In Their Homes, But Not on Public Sidewalks, by Georges Tippens, are primarily concerned with the effects of secondhand smoke. As of 2014, most states have banned smoking in enclosed public places due to concerns over the dangers of secondhand smoke. However, there is no definitive study as to whether e-cigarette vapor has any secondhand effect. Some states are, nevertheless, proactively seeking to extend current regulations, which ban smoking in enclosed public areas, to e-cigarettes. Other states, however, seem to be waiting until more information becomes known about whether e-cigarette smoke is harmful.

Even if e-cigarette vapor is found to be harmful, the question of whether e-cigarette vapor is “as dangerous” as the smoke produced by traditional combustible tobacco products will take decades of research to answer. In this day and age, if scientific evidence provides that secondhand smoke does have a secondhand effect on others, it is improbable that the question of how similar e-cigarettes are to traditional combustible products will have any impact on the extent of state regulation. In this case, e-cigarette regulation will feasibly mirror current state regulations that ban the use of combustible tobacco products in enclosed public places, and will provide a disincentive to e-cigarette sales.