Editorial: Don’t regulate e-cigs as tobacco products

The Detroit News

E-cigarettes suffer from one main problem: their name. They have little in common with actual cigarettes, but the government is trying to regulate them as a tobacco product, and essentially destroy a burgeoning industry that can save lives otherwise lost to smoking.

Smoking cigarettes in the United States has earned a certain taboo following decades of anti-smoking campaigns. But some still struggle to quit, or enjoy the sensation of smoking but don’t want to risk their health.

That’s where e-cigs can be beneficial. The cartridge holds liquid nicotine that’s typically flavored and creates a water vapor, which many mistake to be smoke. But it doesn’t smell like smoke, and it isn’t smoke. There are no second-hand dangers.

That means it’s a much healthier alternative than inhaling smoke from traditional tobacco products.

Still, the Federal Drug Administration is on the cusp of finalizing and releasing its long-awaited rule on e-cigs, and is considering a provision that would burden e-cig makers so heavily it will put almost all out of business.

The regulation would require all e-cig products that came on the market since February 2007 to undergo a Pre-Market Tobacco Applications process, or essentially apply for retroactive approval.

That could cost e-cig and other “vaping” companies, many of which are small, startup businesses, millions of dollars and squash the innovation that’s been so unbridled in this industry.

Ironically, the government will also be helping big tobacco, which has jumped on the e-cigarette bandwagon, because they will be the only companies able to afford operating under the onerous regulations.

E-cigs have helped thousands of smokers, even teens, quit smoking, and helped them transition from tobacco products to a healthier lifestyle.

Their safety is well documented. Last year Public Health England, an agency in the U.K. Department of Health, became the first national government agency to endorse e-cigs as a safer option than smoking. Its report on the issue estimated vaping was 95 percent safer than smoking, based on the aerosol emissions of both products.

There’s also concern that teens use e-cigs. Reasonable regulations for any adult products make sense, but outright bans on e-cigs don’t help kids who are considering quitting smoking.

A Centers for Disease Control study last year found that while e-cig use among high school students jumped to 13 percent from 1.5 percent between 2011 and 2014, high school kids smoking cigarettes fell to 9 percent from almost 16 percent.

E-cigs offer benefits similar to other tobacco cessation products, such as gums or patches that help smokers taper off nicotine. But those products enjoy the protection and support of big pharmaceutical companies that manufacture them.

The government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in the competition for former smokers, and it should regulate e-cigs lightly rather than trample science to achieve its misinformed goal.