When Carcinogens Are FDA-Approved, You Needn't Worry About Them


Today the Food and Drug Administration announced that laboratory analysis of cartridges used in electronic cigarettes, which deliver nicotine in a propylene glycol vapor instead of tobacco smoke, "has found that they contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze." Six paragraphs down, we learn that the FDA tested only "a small sample of cartridges from two leading brands of electronic cigarettes" and that "these products contained detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed" (emphasis added). In a PDF file two clicks away, we learn that diethylene glycol showed up in just one out of 18 cartridges and that five cartridges contained tobacco-specific nitrosamines "at very low levels." The report does not say exactly how low, and it provides no evidence that these trace amounts pose a measurable health risk.

On his tobacco policy blog, Michael Siegel notes a salient fact overlooked by the FDA in its rush to hype the hazards of e-cigarettes: Smoking cessation products approved by the FDA as safe and effective also can contain "detectable levels of known carcinogens," a byproduct of deriving nicotine from tobacco. Yet the FDA is not trying to raise an alarm about the cancer risk allegedly posed by nicotine patches, gum, or inhalers. In fact, Siegel points out, the FDA used an FDA-approved nicotine inhaler as a comparison sample for its analysis of the nicotine levels in e-cigarette cartridges but for some reason decided not to test the inhaler for carcinogens. Siegel acknowledges that the diethylene glycol in one cartridge raises legitimate concerns about manufacturing standards, but he emphasizes that the FDA is once again perversely insisting that e-cigarettes be proven 100 percent safe even though they are substitutes for legal products, conventional cigarettes, that are indisputably far more dangerous (and that now have the FDA's imprimatur).

The rest of the FDA press release hits familiar themes. It warns that nicotine "is highly addictive"; worries that e-cigarettes "are readily available online and in shopping malls" and that they "could increase nicotine addiction and tobacco use in young people"; and complains that "these products do not contain any health warnings comparable to [those on] FDA-approved nicotine replacement products or conventional cigarettes." It also alleges that e-cigarettes "are marketed and sold to young people," by which it presumably means minors, although the only evidence it offers to support that claim is the fact that e-cigarettes are "available in different flavors, such as chocolate and mint." The statement closes by soliciting consumer complaints about "serious adverse events (side effects) or product quality problems with the use of e-cigarettes," possibly because the FDA does not have any yet and needs them to justify removing the product from the market. 

It seems clear that the FDA already has decided to ban e-cigarettes and is now seeking evidence to back up that decision. This approach, which replaces science and consumer protection with puritanism and bureaucratic pigheadedness, sacrifices the interests—and possibly the lives—of smokers who could dramatically reduce their disease risks by switching to e-cigarettes.

More on e-cigarettes here.

NEXT: Freethinking for Your Child

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  1. I dunno dude, sounds a bit scary to me!


  2. I have been using an E-CIG for two weeks now and I have not had a real cigarette since I started, I have tried everything else and none of has worked this well and my lungs are definitely feeling the difference, these people are insane!

  3. They're beating the shit out of cigarette smokers, do you think they really give a shit about a even smaller group of pissed off people? Shit will be criminalized farther than we can foresee, but shorter than we would expect.

  4. more proof that these new regulations are designed to protect phillip morris' market share.

  5. Ya gotta wonder how we will ever make progress in the War on Drugs when the nico-nazis hold sway like this?

    This is like Carrie fuckin-the Nation.

  6. Yes, the nasty government bureaucracy called the FDA has killed many, many more hapless victims than the private for-profit tobacco companies ever killed. And the FDA has never come up with a catchy jingle or a good advertizing idea like the Marlboro Man.

    Thanks to Jacob Sullum and Reason for reporting the truth, which always confirms and strengthens the libertarian position. Objective journalism at its best!

  7. I read earlier the USA Today article on this (because I am apparently an idiot). Their article title was something along the lines as "FDA: E-cigarettes as dangerous as cigs".

    And I thought to myself, that *has* to be bullshit, plain and simple. I'm glad this post is up with a more detailed breakdown of just how BS it is.

  8. I started using these after I stopped using snuff. Never looked back.

  9. OT: I just got a Dell Mini 10 computer. I got another one coming in a few days with Ubuntu loaded. Lovin' it.

  10. These days "detectable levels" means parts per trillion. This is not necessarily a concentration to be afraid of. It's very likely that any standard button mushroom from the grocery store has a higher concentration of carcinogens.

  11. And here is why I haven't invested in an e-cigarette. I'll just continue to smoke cigarettes when I go out every couple of weeks. Thanks FDA.

  12. Where do I find these things? I'd like to try them out. (Yes, I am already a smoker.)

    PS. William, I don't think you have any understanding of the word "objective". Your little diatribe was anything but.

  13. what i think is pretty interesting is that Propylene Glycol is already fda approved for human consumption, and now they are saying that the main ingriedence Propylene Glycol is what they think causes cancer. I think that the cigerette companys and the quit smokeing patch,gum people are behind this.

  14. If you search the internet you can find tons of doctors from other countries that have tested these e cigs and have said they are eather safe or they are alot safer than cigerettes, because none of the toxic chemicals that are found in cigeretted are found in e cigs. And for the record when the news gut said that the e cigs had antifreeze in them what he did not say was that the antifreeze whas antefreeze whas pet safe antifreeze.

  15. Why do we care about e-cigarettes? Regular cigarettes are now approved by the FDA as safe and effective.

  16. Objectivity, WTF? The purpose of this site is to provide a Libertarian slant on issues and events. And yes, cigarattes are killing millions, and with a little help from the FDA (and those catchy jingles), they will continue to do so.

  17. diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze

    My bacon has sodium chloride in it.
    That's the same chemical used to melt snow on highways!

  18. It's helpful to remember that almost all e-cigs, nicotine fluid, and accessories are made in China by smallish manufacturers who don't receive a great deal of scrutiny. Nothing is entirely out of the question when it comes to the contents of a random e-cig cart.

    But it would have to be a pretty negligent addition to be much worse than a real cig.

    If you're interested in trying e-cigs, your best bet may be to do some research and go straight to a chinese site like ruyandirect.com . As far as I know there aren't any really highly reputable vendors in the US (i.e. blu has a respectable looking web site, but takes your money and then is viciously backordered with an inferior product. Totally Wicked has a good reputation, and a naked lady and a cartoon devil on their front page), so you may be better off to pay the shipping from China than the US retail markup.

    Keep in mind that they're only mostly, probably somewhat safer (my best guess of +/- 90% safer is not much better than yours). But they're a pretty good product that doesn't make you stink, and is honestly really damn satisfying.

  19. It's very likely that any standard button mushroom from the grocery store has a higher concentration of carcinogens.

    Yes, they contain miniscule amounts of hydrazine.

  20. And for the record when the news gut said that the e cigs had antifreeze in them what he did not say was that the antifreeze whas antefreeze whas pet safe antifreeze.

    Is there a website than can translate this for me?

  21. diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze

    E-cigs were also found to contain dihydrogen monoxide, the most abundant chemical in municipal sewage, acid rain, and the blood of those infected with Ebola. In more recent news, Michael Jackson's autopsy revealed that he died less than 24 hours after ingesting DHMO.

  22. "The purpose of this site is to provide a Libertarian slant on issues and events."

    In other words, slanted news. Who needs it? True believers.

  23. I take it William doesn't read NYTimes, watch MSNBC, or CNN? All news has a slant, reason covers news relevant to people who care about freedom.

  24. As screwed up as the FDA is.. this is another mistake amoung the millions they have already killed people with. I really dont think they think too clearly.. And I use the greensmoke e-cig.. And I LOVE IT... best quality, my first one, thank goodness I didnt have to try others. I trust whats in my e-cig is what is stated is in it. I don't trust the FDA on any opinions they have about any food or drug.. they come in after the fact and try to clean the mess.. but who pays the price at the end.. the dead people do. So if they ban them.. then they are killing a hell of a lot of people to make a quick buck. And it is sad. Do want an e-cig? click the link.. try them yourself.. More useful information on the site. 🙂

  25. continued from previous post..

    click the link on my name.. it will include a special coupon code to get 10% off at check out.. Enjoy future e-smokers!

  26. just shows the double standards the FDA applies ...

  27. The FDA is a joke, theirs no question they will appeal against the recent case they lost, who knows next time the large tobacco corporations might find a bent judge they can dangle a brief case full of cash.

  28. This e cigarette is an electronic device that is just like a cigarette but it contains no tobacco, no smoke, no tar, and it never has to be lit.

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  31. Here we are three years after this article was written, and the FDA is achieving its goal to ban e-cigs. Many US states have already banned them and it's just a matter of time until the rest do the same

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