When reading something like ‘If we could get all of those people [who smoke] to completely switch all of their cigarettes to noncombustible cigarettes, it would be good for public health’, the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products would be the last person to think of. What sounds like yet another sensational headline are in fact Mitch Zeller’s words during a hearing in front of the US Congress, that might help determine the fate of electronic cigarettes in America. ‘Let’s not lose our focus on what the primary cause is for those 480,000 avoidable deaths each year—it’s primarily burning, combusting cigarettes’ he added.

Moreover, the agency also suggested extending the mandatory 75-day commenting period past July, to grant other voices the opportunity to speak on the subject of ecig regulations and to study these products even further.

Mitch Zeller on ecigs However, that is not stopping the agency from asking Congress for the jurisdiction to restrict the products, disregarding of whether the health impact is positive or negative. Mitch Zeller told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions that it has ‘far more questions than answers’ when it comes to the effects of electronic cigarettes on the people who use them and those in close proximity, and that its ongoing presence outside the FDA’s regulatory authority is unacceptable.

‘We don’t need to have the answers to those questions to have regulatory authority,’ the FDA official said. The administration is currently funding ‘dozens’ of scientific studies to research the matter, he declared. However, it is basing regulatory decisions on a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mindset for now.

The CDC’s Tim McAffee who was also attending the meeting went as far as to say the alleged benefits of e-cigarettes on the health of adult smokers are not worth the risk of kids getting addicted to nicotine using these products as gateways. ‘We don’t think there’s any necessity to spend 5-10 years waiting to see if a 13-year old progresses from e-cigarettes to regular ones … it’s not something we need to or should fool around with,’ he said.

Another vigorous opponent of e-cigarettes is Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who recently put out a scathing report about these devices, spent most of the hearing trying to make a point based on few realistic facts. At one point, the senator picked up a mod and said, ‘They’re buying these fancy things here. Look, it goes in the wall—it looks like a computer plug. I don’t know what that costs, but these are all geared toward young people.’

However, vapers had at least one clear voice on their side, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) who said that it is far too early to ban electronic cigarettes, and it is probably even too early to put severe regulations on them.

‘If we kill technology and innovation, which is, in essence, what some are attempting to do at the beginning, it’s not going to play a role in reducing the amount of Americans who smoke,” he said. ‘I can remember when opportunities for harm reduction were the goal, but the technology wasn’t there … well now, the technology is there, and how quickly we’ve moved to the point where harm reduction is no longer a goal.’