WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 27, 2014): The World Health Organization [WHO] has just recommended very tough restrictions on e-cigarettes, including a total ban on their use in public places, regulations to ensure the products contain a standard dose of nicotine, as the drug content now varies widely among manufacturers, and a ban on sales to children and the use of fruity, candy-type flavorings.

e-cigarettes

However the U.S., in sharp contrast to most of the industrialized world, is doing little to deal with the “grave concerns” expressed by the WHO.   In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] is proposing rules which would do little to rein in a product that agency itself has said pose “acute health risks” which “cannot seriously be questioned” because they contain “toxic chemicals,” and that the devices also “present a serious risk of addicting new users, including children.”

Concerns for e-cigarettes

Recently, after more scientific study, it proposed new warnings, noting that “fatalities related to accidental exposure and misuse have occurred,”  “e-cigarette aerosols may include harmful and potentially harmful constituents,” “e-cigarettes present risks of unintentional nicotine exposure and are potential choking hazards,” “labeling was inadequate or misleading,” and that “battery explosions and the risks of exposure to the e-liquid (especially for children) are also concerns.”

In sharp contrast, virtually all other countries in the world are preparing to crack down on electronic cigarettes under a world anti-smoking treaty.  Leaked documents indicate that electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, may be placed under a world treaty which would largely ban their advertising and their use in public places, as well as subject them to punitive tax rates.

Public interest law professor John Banzhaf, known as the “The Man Behind the Ban on Cigarette Commercials,” “The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry,” and “a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars,” and who has used legal action to successfully fight the unrestricted use of e-cigarettes in the U.S., says that key officials are planning to include the new products under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [FCTC] because they otherwise “could result in a new wave of the tobacco epidemic.”

This new information comes at a time when they are facing increased restrictions under the EU, and growing bans on their use in public and in workplaces in North Dakota, Utah, New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Seattle as well as in many smaller jurisdictions, says Banzhaf, who helped lead the fight for the initial bans in Suffolk County, NY, and in the state of New Jersey.

E-cigarettes present a serious health risks

The FDA and many national health organization say they are concerned that e-cigarettes  – which have not been proven to their satisfaction to help people quit smoking as nicotine patches and gum have – present serious health risks to users as well as to those around them, lead young people using these “candy cigarettes on steroids” into a life of nicotine addiction, discourage smokers from quitting, and mislead many potential users about the dangers.

Recent reports indicate that they can also be life-threatening to young children who lick or bite the cartridges which contain deadly concentrations of the neurotoxin nicotine, as the New York Times reported in “Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes.”  For example, the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center reporting a 333% increase in calls for help involving them in the past year.

“Without regulations, Chinese and other manufacturers have been able to conduct a massive experiment in public health with a product containing a deadly and addictive neurotoxin.  They may be making big profits, but they may have also unleashed a new and very costly epidemic,” warns Banzhaf.

A major study found that persons in the same room with e-cigarette users are exposed to a significant amounts of nicotine; a key contributing factor in causing heart attacks and heart attacks deaths among nonsmokers exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke.

Protecting bystanders from e-cigarettes

The need to protect bystanders from exposure to this chemical justifies the growing number of bans on using the devices in areas where the smoking of conventional tobacco cigarettes is prohibited, says law professor John Banzhaf.  Banzhaf was one of the first to warn about the dangers ex-cigarettes pose to bystanders, and his legal actions helped lead to their regulation by the FDA, and to the initial bans on using them in public places.

Secondhand smoke from conventional cigarettes kills some 50,000 nonsmokers each years, and most of those deaths are causes by heart attacks rather than lung cancer.

So, even if e-cigarettes release into the air fewer cancer-causing substances than conventional cigarettes, the danger of heart attacks triggered by nicotine – which constricts blood vessels, makes the heart race faster, and has other adverse consequences – is still there, and bystanders should not be subjected to it just to allow smokers to get their nicotine fix in places where smoking is prohibited, argues Banzhaf.

Thus, use of the unregulated product in the vicinity of particularly susceptible populations – like young children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with allergies, sensitivities, or prior respiratory problems, etc – likely presents additional serious health risks.  In addition, the vapor contains several additional chemicals the FDA terms “harmful and potentially harmful.”

Another study in April has found some 22 potentially dangerous chemical elements in the vapor given off or inhaled. These include many metallic particles – including 3 on the FDA’s “harmful and potentially harmful chemicals” list [lead, nickel, and chromium] – with the concentrations of 9 “higher than or equal to the corresponding concentrations in conventional cigarette smoke,” notes Banzhaf, who has been called “the law professor who masterminded litigation against the tobacco industry.”

That’s why well over 100 jurisdictions – including New Jersey, North Dakota, and Utah, and many major cities including Boston, Seattle, and Indianapolis – have now banned the use of e-cigarettes in any place where the smoking of conventional cigarettes is prohibited.

Since so many states followed the lead of the Big Apple when it first banned smoking in workplaces, restaurants, and bars, it’s likely that many additional states will again follow NYC and now the WHO and restrict the smoking of e-cigarettes after NYC recently adopted its comprehensive ban.

JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418
http://banzhaf.net/ @profbanzhaf