When it comes to e-cigarette safety, you're still on your own

There’s lots of talk but little action on tighter rules

Published: August 29, 2014 11:30 AM

The number of health experts urging greater regulation of e-cigarettes keeps growing. This week, the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association urged tighter restriction of the devices. And earlier this month, attorneys general from 29 states asked the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on how e-cigs are marketed and how they are sold online.

But don’t expect all the talk to translate into action soon. The FDA is now reviewing more than 80,000 comments from the public and industry on its own proposed regulations, and it could be months, possibly many of them, before the agency does much to rein in how the devices are sold or used.

In the meantime, we think people should steer clear of the devices. “The long term safety of e-cigarettes is still uncertain, the concentrated liquid nicotine is clearly harmful if you happen to be exposed to it, and I have serious doubts about whether it can ever really help people to stop smoking,” says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports chief medical adviser.

Our greatest concern is for children, in part because much of the marketing seems to target them, with flavoring and brightly colored packaging. And there’s some suggestion from a study made public this week that the marketing is working—and that kids who try e-cigs may be more likely to try regular cigarettes, too.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of children who have tried e-cigs has nearly tripled since 2011. By 2013, more than 250,000 middle and high school students who had never smoked conventional cigarettes had tried e-cigs, and a good percentage intended to start smoking regular cigarettes.

 “The increasing number of young people who use e-cigarettes should be a concern for parents and the public health community, especially since youth e-cigarette users were nearly twice as likely to have intentions to smoke conventional cigarettes compared with youth who had never tried e-cigarettes,” wrote the study's lead author, Rebecca Bunnell, Sc.D.

—Chris Hendel

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