On Tuesday, Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell signed onto a letter sent by 38 other attorneys general around the country who are calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate electronic cigarettes, or "e-cigarettes," as tobacco products under the federal Tobacco Control Act.
The battery-powered devices deliver a vaporized hit of nicotine that many smokers describe as similar in taste and feel to tobacco cigarettes, without the smoke, odor or — their manufacturers claim — deadly chemicals. Many longtime smokers credit e-cigarettes for helping them reduce or even eliminate their conventional tobacco habit entirely.
However, public health officials have expressed growing alarm in recent years about the rise of e-cigarette use among children and teenagers. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigs are not currently regulated as tobacco products in the United States, thus allowing their sale to minors.
As Sorrell noted in his Tuesday press release, the U.S. Surgeon General has warned that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is still highly addictive and has immediate biochemical effects on the brain and body, and can be toxic in high doses. Sorrell also noted that the lack of regulation of e-cigarettes, both at the state and federal level, "puts youth at risk of developing a lifelong addiction to a potentially dangerous product that could also act as a gateway to using other tobacco products."
The AGs' letter, co-sponsored by Massachusetts Attorney Martha Coakley and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, also noted that sales of e-cigarettes continue to grow rapidly in the United States. After doubling every year since 2008, sales in 2013 are now accelerating even faster and are projected to soon reach $1.7 billion.
The Vermont Department of Health, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and nearly every major antismoking organization, including the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, have all come out against the devices. These groups have been calling on the FDA for years to flex its regulatory muscle and remove them from the marketplace altogether.
A physician who spent two years with the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, Siegel was an expert witness for the plaintiffs in seven major lawsuits against the tobacco industry, including the landmark Engle case, which led to the $145 billion verdict against Big Tobacco.
"...then electronic cigarettes may be one of the most effective public health interventions of all time. To reduce the sale of tobacco cigarettes so much that it is surpassed by electronic cigarettes would represent a drastic reduction in cigarette consumption and a tremendous accomplishment in terms of disease averted and lives saved.
Ironically, as Carl Phillips [scientific director for Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association] points out, the primary obstacle to this positive scenario is the antismoking establishment and its efforts to derail the electronic cigarette movement. If embraced by the FDA, this could result in a major obstacle for the expansion of the e-cigarette market, and therefore, for the decrease in the tobacco cigarette market."
Why is Siegel so gaga over e-cigs? As he told Seven Days back in 2010, "We have a much better idea what’s in electronic cigarettes than what’s in regular cigarettes. We don’t have a clue what’s in regular cigarettes. There are at least 10,000 chemicals in there, and we’ve identified only 4000 of them."
Siegel remains baffled by the official response of antismoking groups to e-cigarettes and claims much of the information they disseminate reflects inadvertent or deliberate ignorance of current research that shows e-cigarettes are actually far safer than tobacco cigarettes.