Via Doug Bates, resident anti-tobacco zealot at The Oregonian, comes word that Oregon Attorney General John Kroger has bullied two convenience store chains into agreements not to sell electronic cigarettes:
The Oregon Department of Justice today filed two settlements that prevent two national travel store chains from selling “electronic cigarettes” in Oregon. The action is the first of its kind in the country and prevents Oregonians from buying potentially dangerous products that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve.
“When products threaten the health and safety of Oregonians, we will take action,” said Mary Williams, Deputy Attorney General. “If companies want to sell electronic cigarettes to consumers, they have to be able to prove they are safe.” […]
The settlement announced today prohibits the sale of electronic cigarettes in Oregon until they are approved by FDA, or until a court rules the FDA does not have the authority to regulate electronic cigarettes. Even if courts decide that the FDA does not have regulation authority, the settlement stipulates that electronic cigarettes may not be sold in Oregon unless there is competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the product’s safety claims. In addition, the companies must give the Attorney General advance notice that they intend to sell electronic cigarettes in Oregon, provide copies of all electronic cigarette advertising, and provide copies of the scientific studies they maintain substantiates their claims.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Kroger’s office isn’t going to take an unbiased look at any evidence the chains might bring forward. And while it’s of course worthwhile to study e-cigarettes further, this ban and the panic spread by the FDA and anti-smoking groups is based upon virtually no evidence that they are dangerous. Michael Siegel has been doing his usual bang-up job putting the science in perspective:
As these data show, the level of tobacco-specific nitrosamines present in electronic cigarettes is at the trace level. It is measurable in parts per trillion (nanograms per gram). It is comparable to the nitrosamine levels in nicotine replacement products which are approved by the FDA.
In contrast, the level of tobacco-specific nitrosamines present in tobacco products are 300 to 1400 times higher. On a weight-for-weight basis, Marlboro has 1400 times higher the level of tobacco-specific nitrosamines than an electronic cigarette cartridge. And keep in mind that these represent the levels in the cartridges and cigarettes, not in the tobacco smoke or e-cigarette vapor which are directly inhaled. Because of the much higher temperatures generated in tobacco combustion compared to propylene glycol vaporization, the delivery of these carcinogens into the vapor is expected to be much lower than into the tobacco smoke.
Moreover, there are approximately 56 other carcinogens that have been identified to be present at high levels in tobacco smoke, while there are no other carcinogens that have been identified to be present in electronic cigarettes.
Siegel acknowledges that some minor steps should be taken, such as forbidding sale of e-cigarettes to children and ensuring that the diethylene glycol issue is fixed. Both of these goals are easily accomplished without banning the product entirely.
Slight alterations to e-cigarettes may make them safer. The important thing to keep in mind though is that they are already much, much safer than real cigarettes, and if e-cigs are removed from the market many of the people who buy them will go back to smoking actual tobacco. Banning what so far appears to be an effective smoking cessation device is no victory for public health.
From what I can tell, the main reason people oppose e-cigarettes is because the devices look like real cigarettes and mimic the act of smoking. Yet it’s those very qualities that may make them an effective way to quit. Nicotine habits are hard to break not only due to chemical dependence, but also because of the rituals involved. E-cigs mimic those rituals in a way that gums and patches, which also contain trace amounts of nitrosamines, cannot.
Perhaps in a perfect world there would be nothing resembling a cigarette. In the real world there are about 45 million smokers in the US, many of whom would like to quit. It’s perverse to take away one of the tools they could use to do so just because it looks like the far more dangerous product it’s meant to replace.