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Heart Association urges FDA to regulate electronic cigarettes

August 27, 2014

E-cigarettes continue to make the news and there has been a flurry of activity this week surrounding the unregulated product.

A "gateway" drug

The American Heart Association has released a policy statement calling on the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, noting studies have shown that the product, which is being heavily marketed to kids, could serve as a "gateway" drug. While e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they do contain nicotine. The fear is that after becoming addicted to the product, young users may eventually take up smoking regular cigarettes or using chewing tobacco.

"While much is not known about the risks of e-cigarettes, they are increasingly popular among teens," said Dr. Gary Hochheiser, chief of Thoracic Surgery at Baystate Medical Center. "There is a lot of concern that these products might lead to eventual use of conventional cigarettes with these kids, and these studies suggest this might be the case."

A study in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research noted an alarming increase in those middle and high school student who used e-cigarettes but never smoked a cigarette. The study also found these youth were almost two times more likely to intend to begin smoking regular cigarettes as youth who had never used e-cigarettes.

Marketing to kids

A news release about the study released by the American Lung Association said e-cigarettes are sold in dozens of flavors that appeal to kids, including cotton candy, bubble gum, Atomic Fireball, and popular kids’ cereal flavors such as Froot Loops.

One recent study estimated that there are almost 500 different e-cigarette brands today with more than 7,700 different flavors. The three major cigarette companies now all sell e-cigarette products.

"We have seen the tactic of flavored products with cigarettes before from the tobacco companies, as well as other marketing strategies to get teens to start smoking in the past. As nicotine is addictive, they hope to get people addicted at a young age so they will be buying these products for many years to come. These tactics have been outlawed for conventional cigarettes. Clearly we need to have some regulation of these products as well as further research into their effects on people. At this point we don’t know enough about the potential harms," Dr. Hochheiser said.