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Over-Regulation of Electronic Cigarettes Potentially Harmful

Feb 04, 2014 12:01 PM EST

As e-cigarettes cut into tobacco's market share, experts are worried that new regulations are putting corporate interests in front of public health.

In an article appearing in the Therapeutic Advances in Chronic Disease, communication, legal and public health experts Daniela Saitta, Giancarlo Antonio Ferro and Riccardo Polosa from the University of Catania, Italy, argue that fear over the growing popularity of the electronic cigarette could lead to policy implementations that have unintended consequences.

"The rationale of tobacco harm reduction is to make nicotine products that are satisfying as a smoking substitute available to smokers at least as easily as cigarettes, and at competitive prices, hence providing all smokers with an easily obtainable lower-risk alternative to smoking," the authors wrote. "Certain regulatory decisions may have diverse unintended consequences on public health and may face many different challenges."

Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes do not contain the tar, chemicals and other substances found in tobacco smoke which cause many of the health risks associated with smoking. Despite these health benefits, the authors said that members of the health community, pharmaceutical regulators and governments fear that e-cigarettes will encourage higher nicotine consumption and may encourage new smokers, rather than leading to people quitting, especially in young non-smokers.

The authors showed recent drafts of legislation by the European Union define "arbitrary" limits to nicotine content in e-cigarettes and result in higher costs and limited assess for consumers.

"It is counter-productive and hypocritical to over-regulate a product designed to reduce or eliminate the diseases and early deaths caused by smoking," the authors wrote.

Polosa and his co-authors set down guidelines for e-cigarette legislation that includes detailed package labeling, evidence of good manufacturing practices, child-proof caps and documentation of the contents of the e-cigarettes available for regulators.

Unfortunately, the authors said data driven policies may be "politically impossible to implement because the growing popularity of e-cigarettes is a threat to the interests of the tobacco industry, the pharmaceutical industry and to their associated stakeholders due to the substantial decrease in cigarette consumption and NRT sales."

"If these obstacles can be overcome, much misery and suffering can be reduced and millions of lives can be saved," the authors stated. "E-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking but a gateway from smoking, and heavy regulation by restricting access to e-cigarettes would just encourage continuing use of much unhealthier tobacco smoking." 

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