E-Cigarettes May Contain Carcinogens After All

Billed as the modern alternative to traditional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes – or “e-cigarettes” – may be harmful after all, according to a recent FDA News Release.

E-cigarettes were invented around 2004, and generally, are not marketed as a smoking cessation aid. Rather, these devices, which typically consist of a mouthpiece (cartridge) connected to a heater (atomizer) and battery pack, are advertised as the cleaner, healthier, safer, and more cost-effective way to smoke. These cigarettes combine nicotine and other chemicals, delivering the by-product to the inhaler as a vapor. The devices can be bought online from websites like http://www.smokingeverywhere.com, which hails this invention as a “Smoking Revolution” and extols the many virtues of e-smoking: “eco-friendly, non-flammable, can be smoked anywhere, cool design, different flavors, rechargeable, cheaper than cigarette, and healthier.” Another website, http://www.ecigaretteschoice.com/, claims that its e-cigarettes contain “4,000 less chemicals than cigarettes” and contain “no carcinogens” or “tar.” Yet another website, http://www.njoythefreedom.com, a self-proclaimed “global leader in smoking alternatives,” promotes the lack of second-hand smoke as a way to potentially avoid local or state ordinances against smoking.

But not so fast, according to the FDA. In early 2009, the agency added e-cigarettes to Import Alert 66-41, which bars import into the United States of certain products deemed by the FDA to be unapproved or misbranded. The FDA reasons that e-cigarettes constitute a drug-device combination, and that accordingly, they fall under the agency’s jurisdiction. On or about March 13, 2009, the FDA detained a shipment of e-cigarettes at the Port of Los Angeles; the shipment was intended for receipt by Smoking Everywhere from one of its foreign suppliers. The FDA’s July 22, 2009 news report advises that testing of samples from that shipment revealed the presence of carcinogens, including diethylene glycol, an ingredient found in antifreeze. In April 2009, Smoking Everywhere brought suit against the FDA seeking a restraining order and preliminary injunction. Smoking Everywhere v. FDA, 09-cv-00771 (D. D.C., April 28, 2009)