Cortez Masto, Nevada’s Attorney General joined 28 other state attorneys general in August in expressing their support in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to spread its supervisory umbrella over additional tobacco products to include also e-cigarettes. Sadly, the Agency endangers public health by not appropriately assessing the costs of censoring the electronic cigarette market.

FDA logoThe Food and Drug Administration addresses the matter on the side of already assuming ecigs pose more of a health risk than a chance on improving the general public health. Countless studies, however, show that these devices actually help some smokers cut down on the number of combustibles or quit smoking for good. Studies also suggest that ecigs are at least as effective, if not better, than FDA-approved nicotine replacement alternatives such as patches, gums, inhalers and pills. Their efficiency appears to be connected to how they mimic the act of smoking.

The regulators however seem to dismiss ‘harm reduction theory’. The theory is based on the assumption that reducing damage from risky behavior may help public health more efficiently than simply prohibiting the unhealthy behavior. Such a model relates with estimates that combustible products such as cigarettes, pipes and cigars are accounted for up to 98% of tobacco-related casualties. The Food and Drug Administration ignores the probability that alternative products such as electronic cigarettes are significantly less hazardous than combustible tobacco products by relying on the lack of conclusive evidence.

But according to the American Medical Association, electronic cigarettes do not contain any tobacco, the primary reason combustible cigarettes are so harmful. Moreover, vapor from ecigs is far less toxic than secondhand tobacco smoke, and while these devices do contain nicotine, the drug probably does not contribute closely as much to smoking-related diseases as tobacco.

The incoming rule would impose labeling necessities and warning announcements for packages and advertisements. However, public health will likely be harmed if manufacturers are prohibited from marketing their products as healthier alternatives to tobacco analogs or even inform consumers that their products do not contain tobacco. The imminent regulation will force manufacturers to promote other factors, like flavor, price, and convenience, therefore driving producers away from developing new products aimed at helping users with their smoking cessation.

If manufacturers are prohibited to inform smokers that ecigs are safer alternatives, the FDA may promote tobacco use without realizing it. The incoming regulations thus weakens the creative crushing that the electronic cigarette industry might otherwise apply on the tobacco industry.

The CDC estimates the annual costs associated with smoking in the United States are between $289 billion and $333 billion. With these costs in mind, the chance that e-cigs represent a market response that fills the need for risk reduction by the dazzling 32.2 million smokers wanting to quit is worth following.