Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ex-Smokers Organize to Keep Electronic Cigarettes on the Market, Easily Accessible

Broward/Palm Beach New Times
By Deirdra Funcheon
Feb. 7 2013

This week, New Times reported on the electronic cigarette business, which is currently booming but faces a crossroads this April, when the Food and Drug Administration is set to release proposals on how it will regulate the industry. A Wells Fargo analyst who studies the tobacco industry told us that sales of e-cigarettes could surpass sales of traditional cigarettes in the next few years. The coming FDA rules could largely influence how the market is divided among online retailers, small brick-and-mortar shops, and/or Big Tobacco.

We focused on a store called Vapor Shark, which opened a lounge in Miami last year and expanded to Broward County (Hallandale Beach) in January.  But one person who didn't make it into that story is Elaine Keller, president of Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives (CASAA), which she says has 3,000 members. A consumer with no financial stake in the e-cigarette market, she met friends through the website, and they formed a nonprofit "when we got the message that the FDA was trying to ban the very product that helped us quit smoking."

Keller, 67, who spent her career in computer-based education and as a writer for science research organization Battelle, said, "I smoked for 45 years, and believe me, it wasn't for lack of trying that I didn't quit earlier. I had become dependent on the beneficial effects of nicotine. I get very ill when I try to go without it. I become terribly depressed and confused, couldn't remember things and so forth.

"I found electronic cigarettes on the internet before they were very well-known, around 2007. Actually, the first thing I ordered was an electric cigar. It tasted just like a cigar. A year later, I got a call from the company. They sent me a starter kit for their new product. I didn't quit right away -- I was using it occasionally. But I switched March 27, 2009, and I've been free of smoke ever since."

Keller and her group mobilized people to attend an FDA hearing in Maryland in December, and CASAA's calls to action prompted 5,300 pro-e-cig comments on the FDA's website.

Like many smokers who have converted to electronic cigarettes, Keller has trouble fathoming why the FDA would want to impede people from switching from tobacco. She cited a study that found carcinogens in e-cigarettes and said, "The guy who constructed this was very good at propaganda. He said they had a detectable level of carcinogens -- what he left out was the quantity. Tobacco-specific nitrosamines would appear in any product made from nicotine. They found eight nanograms in a milliliter of e-liquid. How many in the FDA-approved nicotine patch? Eight nanograms. How many in a pack of Marlboros? 126,000 nanograms."

Keller suspects the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society "get funding from pharmaceutical companies that make stop-smoking products. Otherwise, their opposition is illogical." Keller says her group is "very much in favor of reasonable regulations." For instance, they would support measures like childproof packaging (so long as it was not too hard to open, because a lot of ex-smokers are elderly).

Because of a quirk in the FDA regulatory process, Keller fears that the FDA could classify any product that was not on the market by February 2007 as a "new product," which would make it subject to a complex approval process. If newer, more sophisticated devices could not get to market, e-cig smokers -- or "vapers," as they call themselves -- would then be stuck smoking more primitive e-cigarettes, many of which lack the feel of real cigarettes, thus potentially driving people back to conventional cigs.

Keller also fears that in its haste to protect children, the agency could ban flavored vapors. "Most of us started with [tobacco-flavored electronic cigarettes] but, when we tried a new flavor, switched completely away."

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