Vape Shops In Jeopardy As E-Cigs Face New FDA Regulations

BuzzFeed - Latest 2015-08-21


A new study hints that teens who vape will go on to smoke cigarettes. Concerns about the health risks of e-cigs, plus new federal rules, could uproot the $2.2 billion industry.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images / Via

Just as e-cigarettes have become more popular than tobacco cigs among U.S. high school students, a new study bolsters long-standing fears of public health officials: Vaping may spur teens to try tobacco later on.

The study is only the latest hit to the $2.2 billion e-cigarette industry, which over the last decade has spawned about 8,000 vape shops across the U.S. These stores, which sell plastic and metal pens that can vaporize thousands of flavors of nicotine-laced liquids, are currently unregulated. But largely because of health concerns, the FDA promises to soon release rules that would regulate the battery-powered smokes as tobacco products, even though they don't contain any tobacco.

While vaping has become more popular, teen cigarette smoking rates have dropped precipitously, from 25% of 12th graders smoking daily in 1997 to just 7% in 2014.

Vaping's rise might sound like great news, as e-cigarettes don't expose the lungs to tobacco carcinogens. But some public health experts worry that kids will become addicted to nicotine via sweet-tasting vaping, and then later turn to smoking tobacco, which kills about 6 million people every year.

Over the last three years, e-cigarettes have faced a growing patchwork of local regulations, with 371 cities and 22 counties banning them in locations that also prohibit tobacco smoking. California's legislature, meanwhile, choked on enacting such a ban statewide earlier this month.

The proposed FDA regulations are expected to have much sharper teeth. They could treat each vaping flavor similar to a new drug, forcing manufacturers to conduct proper clinical trials โ€” at a cost of at least $300,000 โ€” showing they don't impact public health. Industry-funded groups such as the American Vaping Association fear these restrictions will wipe out most shops.

"What's happening is that researchers, and the rest of the world, are trying to catch up to the market," health economist Frank Chaloupka of the University of Illinois at Chicago told BuzzFeed News. "There's the potential for real benefits for current smokers. And then there is the issue of kids taking them up."

In the new study, published on Tuesday in JAMA, researchers tracked 2,530 Los Angeles high school students who didn't smoke tobacco in 9th grade. Among the 222 who had already used e-cigarettes, 25.2% ended up as cigarette, cigar, or hookah smokers by the end of 10th grade, compared to just 9.3% of the ones who hadn't used e-cigarettes first.

The study authors were cautious about the findings, saying they didn't prove that e-cigarettes directly cause later tobacco smoking in teens.

In an editorial accompanying the JAMA study, Harvard Medical School's Nancy Rigotti called the results "the strongest evidence to date that e-cigarettes might pose a health hazard by encouraging adolescents to start smoking conventional tobacco products."

Still, she also noted the study didn't distinguish between kids who puffed on a cigarette once and quit and those who went on to became regular smokers โ€” making the data only suggestive, at best.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images / Via

"Few topics in public health and medicine are as contentious as electronic cigarettes," Rigotti noted in her editorial.

The debate is largely between critics who think vaping will lead to a revival of smoking, and supporters who see the products as a promising way to help cigarette smokers quit.

E-cigarettes work by heating liquid mixtures of nicotine, flavorings (everything from chewi


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Dan Vergano

Date tagged:

08/21/2015, 11:32

Date published:

08/21/2015, 11:23