By Neil H. Dempsey
---- — The website for North Shore Vapors in Salem says it all: “Stop smoking and start vaping today, because vapor tastes better than smoke, and vapor won’t kill you.”
That, say e-cigarette sellers, is a pretty good summary of why vaporizing is better than smoking tobacco. But pretty soon, making health-related claims like “vapor won’t kill you” without scientific proof will be illegal, at least if you’re an e-cigarette maker.
Barring manufacturers from making claims that aren’t backed by medical evidence is just one of a number of regulations the Food and Drug Administration has proposed for e-cigarettes, which until now have largely escaped the federal government’s scrutiny.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporize liquid solutions, some of which contain nicotine. They look and feel like cigarettes, and produce a visible vapor that can be inhaled like smoke. Proponents say they aren’t as dangerous as their cancer-causing cousins; opponents say there’s no proof of that, and that children are attracted to them by the range of available flavors.
Other restrictions proposed for the blossoming industry include barring sales of e-cigarettes and accompanying materials to be people under 18, forbidding free in-store samples and putting health warnings on associated packaging.
Locally, e-cigarette sellers say the age limits aren’t likely to affect their businesses, since local laws forbid anybody under 18 from purchasing them anyhow. In Salem, for instance, e-cigarettes are considered “nicotine delivery products,” and are thus treated identically to their smokier counterparts when it comes to how old you have to be to buy them.
Or, as Mike Allen, owner of the Red Lion Smoke Shop, put it when informed of the upcoming regulations: “I always just assumed you couldn’t sell to a minor anyways.”
Across town at North Shore Vapors, a new store selling e-cigarettes on Highland Avenue, owner Alan Kelleher said he feared the new regulations will make his wares more expensive, since extra requirements are being placed on the companies that manufacture them.
“I think the price is going to be passed on to us,” Kelleher said. “Now they have to add ingredients and warnings, bigger labels — more cost.”
Still, Kelleher said he supports the regulations from a consumer’s standpoint, since manufacturers will have to divulge ingredients for the first time.
“People need to know what they’re buying,” he said.
Kelleher said his business will also be affected because he’ll no longer be able to provide free samples to his customers, though he doesn’t think that will have a dramatic impact. He said he is more worried the new regulations are the first step in a process that will eventually result in the taxation of nicotine.
“This is nicotine, not tobacco,” he said. “They shouldn’t tax us in the same way.”
At AAA Vapor of Beverly, owner Jimmy Logue said he doesn’t expect his business will be affected by the regulations, as he already can’t sell to anyone under 18 or have people vaporize on-site — meaning free samples are out of the question.
However, Logue also said he supports keeping e-cigarette materials out of the hands of youths, since they can be attracted by the flavored “juices” — “juice” being a term for the nicotine-containing liquid that’s vaporized in an e-cigarette. Flavors range from strawberry to bubblegum to tobacco.
All the same, Logue said AAA Vapor hasn’t had much trouble with kids trying to buy e-cigarettes — quite the opposite.
“I find a lot of older people are getting into it because they have 20 years of smoking under their belt and they’re trying to kick it,” he said.
Logue himself said he’s been smoking for about a decade, and now relies on e-cigarettes as much as he can. Many people now try to quit smoking by switching to e-cigarettes and slowly reducing the amount of nicotine in the liquids they vaporize, the end goal being to reach a point where they’re vaporizing liquids without any nicotine at all.
E-cigarettes are also helpful for people who smoke because they allow users to imitate the physical act of smoking, Logue said.
“Mostly, a smoking habit is the smoking part,” he said.
Still, that’s not to say making the switch to vapors — or the subsequent step-down — is easy.
“I’m still smoking sometimes,” Logue said. “It’s hard for me.”
In turning its attention to e-cigarettes, the FDA is acknowledging their growing popularity. Both Kelleher and Logue say they believe the number of people seeking e-cigarettes is only going to increase in upcoming years.
“It’s going to boom,” Logue said. “It’s definitely getting more popular.”
“Right now, it’s pretty open, there’s only a handful of us around,” said Kelleher. “Out West, there’s one on every corner.”
The regulations for e-cigarettes are part of a wider effort by the FDA to bring more tobacco and nicotine-related products under its control. Currently, the organization regulates cigarettes and cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco. Along with e-cigarettes, it plans to start regulating cigars, pipe and waterpipe tobacco, nicotine gels and dissolvables.
Saying the “tobacco product marketplace is evolving at a dizzying space,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg pointed out in a recent blog post that there are still “many unanswered questions” about the health effects of products like e-cigarettes.
“Especially in the shadow of alarming increases in the number of youths using unregulated products like electric cigarettes and cigars, it’s more crucial than ever to help prevent early tobacco use that could lead to a lifetime of nicotine addiction,” Hamburg said.
On its website, the FDA has said that whether or not e-cigarettes have risks or benefits is an issue that needs further study. Also, it said, “it is unknown whether e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes.”
The FDA hasn’t said when the new regulations will take effect.
Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at email@example.com.