Effects of new vaping regulations won’t be felt immediately; American and British researchers have differing views of e-cigs

By Danielle Ray
Kentucky Health News

A long time coming, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released new regulations this month for all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, vape pens, hookahs, dissolvables, and pipes. But the effects might not be felt for as long as two years.

Photo: excusemyvapes.com

The regulations require health warnings on packages and advertisements and ban sales to minors. Other regulations include reporting ingredients to the FDA, requiring photo identification to buy, banning free samples and banning the labeling of products as moderate, with words such as “light” or “mild,”

The FDA called the regulations a milestone in consumer protection. It believes the new rules will help prevent misleading claims by manufacturers moving forward and allow for review of new products not yet on the market. The agency already regulated traditional cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and roll-your-own tobacco prior to the decision.

The new rules will take effect in stages. The ban on sales to minors begins Aug. 8, but according to Phil Galewitz of The Washington Post, the ban will primarily affect Michigan and Pennsylvania, as the other 48 states already ban sales of e-cigarettes to minors. Warning labels will take effect May 2018. The labels will read: “WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”

Don’t expect changes overnight. Manufacturers have two years to submit products for review and another year for the agency to perform evaluations.

Why did the FDA take on vaping? For one thing, because the market has so far been unregulated, the ingredients in vaping liquid are largely a mystery. However, a 2015 Harvard University study found several dangerous chemicals present in these liquids. The chemicals can destroy tiny passageways in lungs, leading to scar tissue buildup and eventually respiratory disease, according to the study.

For another thing, adolescents and teenagers are vaping at unprecedented rates. More than 3 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2015, up more than 500,000 from the year before, according to the FDA.

E-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco products among youth for two consecutive years. Sixteen percent of high schoolers and about 5 percent of middle schoolers were vapers of e-cigarettes in 2015, according to the FDA. More than 80 percent of them cited appealing flavors, which include “gummy bear” and “cotton candy,” as their primary reason for use.

The science is still out on whether the harmful qualities of vaping negate any potential benefits. Some studies have found e-cigarettes to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes. For example, a 2015 Public Health England review concluded that e-cigarettes are about 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm,” said Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and well-being at PHE, said in a news release. “The problem is people increasingly think they are at least as harmful and this may be keeping millions of smokers from quitting.”

As noted in the Harvard study, e-cigarettes are not harmless. The question remains if vaping can be a tool to help current smokers quit, if they lure in kids who otherwise would not become smokers or if it’s a little of both.

According to the British study, there is no evidence that vaping attracts non-smokers. Fewer than 1 percent of either adults or young people who have never smoked are becoming regular e-cigarette users, the study noted.

As for fears that vaping leads to traditional smoking, Linda Bauld, a cancer prevention expert at Cancer Research United Kingdom, said in a news release that those claims are unfounded.

“Fears that e-cigarettes have made smoking seem normal again or even led to people taking up tobacco smoking are not so far being realized,” Bauld said. “In fact, the overall evidence points to e-cigarettes actually helping people to give up smoking tobacco.”

Attitudes toward vaping have been much more favorable overall in the UK. Public health officials there seem more willing to accept e-cigarettes as a safer alternative and even a stop smoking tool than do U.S. officials.

For more background information on the FDA’s new regulations, click here.

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