Clearing The Smoke Surrounding E-Cigs

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Clearing The Smoke Surrounding E-Cigs

By Jason Healy - 05/23/2011

As the popularity of e-cigarettes grows, so does the questions on quality control and health effects

Since their introduction to the U.S. market approximately three years ago, e-cigarettes (also known as e-cigs) have ignited a firestorm of controversy. A collection of government agencies, health alliances and antismoking groups have been fighting to regulate and even ban them — with very little real evidence to support their positions. Regardless, consumer interest continues to grow, as do predominately online e-cig sales. So what's behind all of this controversy, and why can't these new smokeless tobacco products find a home in retailers' tobacco departments?

If you're one of the few who haven't heard of e-cigarettes, they mimic the taste and feel of smoking without the tobacco, smell and ash associated with traditional cigarettes. Most come in a variety of flavors and varying levels of nicotine — from high to no nicotine at all. When the user inhales, a battery in the device heats a flavored liquid to create a smoke-free vapor "puff" that resembles cigarette smoke, but evaporates within seconds and doesn't have a lingering odor.

But as e-cigs' popularity and usage grow, so do questions about the quality control and health effects of these new products, which only serve to fuel the debate. Everything from the flavors, to the technology and even the ingredients have been criticized. The truth is that hundreds of companies are scrambling to get in on the market while it's still hot, and as such are opting for lower production cost over product quality — sourcing all of their ingestible ingredients from China under dubious quality control standards. In fact, many of these brands were cited in a July 2009 FDA report as containing carcinogens and toxic chemicals. While most of the electronic components of any brand's e-cigs are imported, it's important to look for those whose liquid (or juice) is manufactured in the USA. Foreign producers of these ingestible ingredients are not likely to adhere to the same stringent quality control standards.

RESEARCH FINDS E-CIGS SAFER

A new university health study released by the Journal of Public Health Policy is shedding a new light on e-cigs, and reigniting the controversy for some. The study was conducted and co-authored by Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health (who has long studied tobacco epidemiology, and has evaluated tobacco-related policies at national, state and local levels) and Zachary Cahn, a graduate student in the political science department at the University of California at Berkeley. Research compared traditional tobacco cigarettes to electronic cigarettes and found e-cigarettes are not only safer, but actually have the potential to become a smoking cessation device. Additionally, the study showed that none of the more than 10,000 chemicals present in tobacco — including over 40 known carcinogens — have been found in the cartridges or vapor of electronic cigarettes in anything more than trace quantities. In fact, the research documents only three main ingredients in e-cigarettes, comparatively — with water and nicotine among them.

MAKING SHELF SPACE FOR E-CIGS

So for the time being, retailers are on their own to verify the quality of the products they stock until the e-cigarette industry has stricter federal regulations.

While the path of e-cigs has not been completely mapped out just yet, the latest research combined with consumer demand all but ensures a growing market for these products. It's safe to say consumers and retailers can expect to see much more from these new devices in the future, as they continue to redefine the smokeless tobacco category.

Jason Healy is President of blu Cigs, a provider of electronic cigarettes in the U.S., offering an alternative to smoking. The company is based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.blucigs.com.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.