Regulating e-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes, now a $1.5 billion to $2 billion business, have become difficult to ignore. The electronic devices, which might look like cigarettes or cigars or even pipes, come with different battery sizes and burn a variety of vapors that might contain a greater or smaller amount of nicotine and a flavor enhancer, according to a February Times Record report.

The variable amount of nicotine can make them effective aids for those wishing to quit or cut down on their cigarette smoking. Not only can the nicotine dose be controlled, but at least some other harmful chemicals in cigarettes are absent.

Nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration seeks to extend its regulation of e-cigarettes by having them classed as tobacco products. Specifically, the FDA states as a goal keeping the product from children. In April, it announced that it wanted to limit the sales of e-cigarettes on Internet websites and through vending machines accessible to children. It also sought to limit the candy flavorings that make the devices popular with children.

In addition to the danger the nicotine in e-cigarettes may pose to young people, officials at the FDA believe using the devices could lead children to more traditional tobacco products.

While the FDA seeks that extended right to regulate e-cigarettes, a different and more acute issue has emerged.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers said there have been more than 1,500 calls regarding liquid nicotine exposure this year — a pace that will double last year’s total. In Arkansas in April state officials said at least 20 young children had been poisoned in 2014.

On Monday, the American Vaping Association, which represents independent manufacturers of e-cigarettes, issued a press statement saying it supports “common-sense laws” that create safer products aimed at reducing tobacco-related disease and death.

Specifically, the association said it supports a federal ban on selling e-cigarettes to minors and the use of childproof packaging. To date, 28 states, including Arkansas, prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

Eleven Senate Democrats, including Mark Pryor, introduced legislation last week that would require childproof packaging. Sen. Pryor first expressed concerns about the issue in April after learning at least one Arkansas child had been hospitalized after ingesting a liquid nicotine vial.

At that time he said he hoped for voluntary compliance, but on Monday, he said, “We are seeing more and more children poisoned and even sent to the emergency room as a result of liquid nicotine. We can’t afford to keep waiting.”

Despite its stated willingness to work to keep e-cigarettes from children, the American Vaping Association does not want to see e-cigarettes classed as tobacco products.

On the association’s website, APA President Greg Conley argues that regulation would harm small and medium-sized electronic cigarette companies and would “hand the market over to Big Tobacco and potentially ban the sale of products used today by tens or hundreds of thousands of ex-smokers.”

Emerging from the electronic smoke, a couple of things seem clear.

• Nicotine liquid in any strength must be kept from children, and childproof packaging is an efficient way to to add a layer of protection.

• Given the industry’s acknowledgement, it’s a no-brainer that electronic cigarettes should not be marketed or sold to minors.

• Adults, who already have access to cigarettes, should have easy access to a full variety of electronic cigarette products.

One more thing seems clear, and the American Vaping Association should come to terms with this and bring its manufacturers along as well.

If manufacturers of electronic cigarettes won’t self-regulate, won’t start using childproof packaging and won’t stop marketing to children on their own, the impetus for the FDA and Congress to take formal action will grow. That could lead to the precise situation Mr. Conley is trying to avoid.