FDA Goes After Electronic Cigarettes

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is going after electronic cigarette companies, but it may get burned in the process.

The FDA sent out warning letters Thursday to five companies that distribute electronic cigarettes, criticizing them for poor manufacturing practices and making unsubstantiated claims about their products.

In the letter, the FDA announced it considers electronic cigarettes to be a drug and intends to begin regulating them accordingly. As part of this, the FDA plans to test electronic cigarettes offered by five companies to see if they do in fact live up to their health claims.

Electronic cigarettes are battery powered and marketed as safer alternatives to normal cigarettes because instead of smoke, users inhale a vaporized version of nicotine, which may be better for the lungs and also eliminates the problem of secondhand smoke. Previous studies have shown that these e-cigarettes do contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals.

“A company cannot claim that its drug can treat or mitigate a disease, such as nicotine addiction, unless the drug’s safety and effectiveness have been proven,” the FDA said in a press release. “Yet all five companies claim without FDA review of relevant evidence that the products help users quit smoking cigarettes.”

There has long been suspicion about electronic cigarettes. The World Health Organization warned about them back in 2008, but the FDA’s authority to regulate these cigarettes in the U.S. has been blurry at best.

Last year, President Obama approved a bill that gave the FDA a greater amount of authority to regulate the cigarette industry, including the ability to ban flavored cigarettes, take down questionable advertisements and prohibit certain chemicals from being used in products. Yet electronic cigarettes were not part of this bill and do not fall under the FDA’s jurisdiction.

So, at the moment it remains to be seen whether the FDA is overstepping its authority. The e-cigarette industry is estimated to be worth about $100 million, and it is not likely to give up a fight easily. In fact, even as it issues this warning, the FDA is still being sued by Smoking Everywhere, a company that markets e-cigarettes, after the agency banned several shipments of cigarettes earlier this year.

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