Electronic cigarettes are creating a frenzy among politicians, health experts, and the media. Local bans on using e-cigarettes indoors are popping up all over the country, and many interest groups are clamoring for top-down FDA regulations, which are expected to be released in the coming weeks.
“E-Cigarettes currently exist in a complete no-man’s land,” says Heather Wipfli, associate director for the USC Institute for Global Health. Skeptics such as Wipfli worry about the lack of long-term data available because the product is so new.
But according to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association’s Greg Conley, calls for regulation are "a perverse interpretation of the precautionary principle.” The precautionary principle holds that until all possible risks are assessed, new technologies shouldn't be allowed to move forward.
Conley points to preliminary studies, like this one from Drexel University, which confirm these smokeless, tobacco-less, tar-less products are not a cause for concern - or at least not a cause for the same concerns that accompany traditional cigarettes and second-hand smoke.
“That [Drexel University] professor concluded that there was absolutely no worry about risks to bystanders from e-cigarette vapor,” says Conley.
The ingredients of e-cigarettes certainly have very little in common with tobacco cigarettes. Nicotine, the only ingredient found in both products, is mainly used to wean smokers off traditional cigarettes and is not one of the harm-inducing ingredients associated with lung cancer in smokers. The other ingredients in the “e-juice” at the core of e-cigarettes are propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and food flavorings— all of which are used in other food products.
“All we are doing is steaming up food ingredients to create a vapor,” says Ed Refuerzo, co-owner of The Vape Studio in West Los Angeles. The Vape Studio is one of the many boutique e-cigarette shops popping up that might be significantly affected or even shut down by both local legislation and FDA regulations.
Conley says it's the currently unregulated customizability of the e-juice that allows these small businesses to thrive. “The availability of liquids is what is allowing a lot of these small stores to open and prosper because they are able to mix their own liquid and sell it to consumers without having to go through a big manufacturing process,” says Conley.
The higher costs of complying with regulations would most likely be passed on to consumers, which would impact people who are looking towards e-cigarettes as an effective way to quit smoking.
“We’re using technology, and that’s what we do in America, we use technology to solve really complicated problems,” says Craig Weiss, president and CEO of NJOY. NJOY is a leading manufacturer of electronic cigarettes - and a donor to Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason TV. Weiss says that despite regulations, the potential of the industry is only just starting to be realized.
“The electronic industry is growing at quite a dramatic pace. It’s more than doubled each of the last four or five years," says Weiss. "This piece of technology could have such an potential impact on the world.”
For more on the industry and NJOY, watch this ReasonTV interview with Weiss:
About 6 minutes.
Written and produced by Tracy Oppenheimer, who also narrates. Camera by Oppenheimer, Zach Weissmueller, Jim Epstein and Anthony Fisher.