You see them everywhere now. E-cigarettes or vaporizers. Entire cultural groups have sprung up surrounding the market. Vapers are omnipresent on social media, and there are even the equivalent of of old-school tupperware parties for the devices. Granted, makers of the vaporizers know that sex sells, so you find a number of tradeshow models showcasing the devices.
Researchers are fanning out across social media to study the rise of the e-cigarette. The FDA has already earmarked $270 million to over 45 research projects. The aim? To determine risks of the e-cigarettes and vaporizers before more Americans become addicted to them.
An example of the research being done is one team is looking at Facebook groups devoted to altering the vaporizers to deliver more nicotine. Another team is looking at the number of puffs from volunteer vapers. Probably one of the more important studies is a team has built a virtual convenience store. Using split testing, they are researching how likely minors are to buy the devices.
Dr. Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin from Yale spoke on the FDA’s push. “They want data and they want it yesterday,”
Unfortunately for the FDA, the push to get hard data fast means patience. The first pieces of hard data from the funded studies is expected in 2018. Until then, Federal regulation is essentially the wild west. The FDA picked these studies because of their direct ramifications on future regulations. Studies not funded by the FDA are expected before the 2018 timeframe, and can be considered in any eventual regulatory push.
As for the e-cigarette industry? They are pushing back on any regulations before the study. The industry is worried about possible state-level regulations. Industry advocates are pushing for a wait and see attitude from regulators. “There shouldn’t be regulations akin to those for cigarettes without evidence of similar health impact, especially since the preliminary evidence is positive for the industry.”
Of course, e-cigarettes are big business. With traditional cigarettes losing their appeal to consumers, e-cigarettes are the fallback for major corporations. It has quickly turned into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Over 14 million American adults have tried the product, and two million minors – either teens or tweens – have used an e-cigarette. The FDA has already come out and said it would rely on the best available science for a regulatory framework. That could mean regulations before its own studies come out with hard data.
The agency does have the statutory means to regulate the industry. They gained the right under the 2009 Tobacco Control Act. It gives the FDA the ability to regulate novel tobacco items, including e-cigarettes. So far, the agency has proposed a ban on sales to minors, but public health advocates have cried foul. They want harsher sanctions, including the ban of online sales and flavoring.
Regardless of how the FDA moves, expect it to take time. The studies are trying to catch a fast-moving industry. Plus, the industry already has a sizable lobbying arm in place. Any push into the bottom-line of the corporations will be met with political pressure.