CEH Legal Action: Be Safe When You VapeBy Charles Margulis
CEH has been receiving questions about our recent legal action against companies that make e-cigarettes and vaping products. We welcome an open exchange on the topic. Below are some responses to the more frequently asked questions.
Q: Do you want everyone to stop using e-cigarettes and vaping products?
A: CEH does not oppose the use of e-cigarettes or vaping products. We are taking legal action to enforce California warning rules that require companies to inform consumers (with product labels or warning signs) before they buy products like these, which can expose users to nicotine, a chemical known to cause serious reproductive health problems. The CDC notes that nicotine is
…a reproductive toxicant and has adverse effects on fetal brain development. Pregnant women and women of reproductive age [emphasis added] should be cautioned about the use of nicotine-containing products, such as electronic cigarettes, as alternatives to smoking. The health effects of using electronic cigarettes before or during pregnancy have not been studied.[i]
Further, since e-cigarettes and vaping products are unregulated, consumers have no way to be sure that they are getting what they pay for when they purchase these products. There are also no rules to require packaging that protects small children from being poisoned by the products. We aim to pressure the industry to standardize their products, to protect consumers from false labeling and risky formulations, and to institute safety measures to protect children. We also support and the law in California upholds consumers’ right to know when products expose them to nicotine.
Q: I used these products to stop smoking tobacco and they worked great for me. Shouldn’t everyone have access to these products for smoking cessation?
A: We are glad to hear that these products have been helpful to some people. Other smoking cessation products have gone through government approval processes, to insure that they are safe and effective, are produced consistently to conform to industry standards, and are properly labeled to conform with the law. The e-cigarette and vaping industry have as yet failed to gain such regulatory approval, have been widely criticized for inconsistent and unreliably labeled products,[ii] and their products that we purchased do not comply with current labeling law. The American Lung Association states, “(We are) very concerned about the potential health consequences of electronic cigarettes, as well as the unproven claims that they can be used to help smokers quit.”[iii] In fact, the data on smoking cessation using these products is, at best, mixed: one study found positive results using e-cigarettes, but even that study found that quitting rates were low.[iv] Another recent study concluded that “Use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among U.S. adolescents.”[v]
Q: Isn’t vaping different from using e-cigarettes? Vaping doesn’t produce smoke so why would it pose any health risks? Since e-cigarettes and vaping products don’t produce smoke, how can you say they produce second-hand smoke?
A: All of the products we purchased contain nicotine and are intended to deliver nicotine via vapor (smoke).[vi] Nicotine is known to cause serious reproductive health problems. In addition, some studies have suggested that other toxic chemicals may be produced by e-cigarettes, including chemicals known to cause cancer and/or reproductive health hazards.[vii] One recent study suggested potential health risks from nicotine in second-hand smoke produced by e-cigarettes,[viii] and another found higher levels of toxic metals in second-hand smoke from e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes.[ix]
Q: Why are you only targeting smaller companies? Doesn’t your case just protect Big Tobacco, at the expense of people who want freedom to use non-tobacco products?
A: We targeted all products we purchased from companies that fail to comply with California warning rules. Over nearly 20 years, we have successfully pursued numerous efforts to change the way entire industries produce and market their products, to protect consumers’ right to know and reduce health risks. We expect that by pressuring a significant segment of the e-cigarette and vaping market, we can influence the entire industry, big companies and smaller ones, to produce products that are safer for children who may stumble on the products, that are of consistent quality so consumers can know that what they are paying for is what they are getting, and that are properly labeled, in compliance with the law.
Q: You claim formaldehyde is produced by e-cigarettes, but haven’t those claims been debunked?
A: As we noted, a recent study found that high levels of formaldehyde were produced when vaping at higher temperatures. Some critics claim that the study is unrealistic, as most consumers would not use nicotine-containing liquids in their devices at such high levels. As formaldehyde is known to cause cancer, we believe more research should be done on this potential risk. Given that there is little data on this and many other chemical concerns from e-cigarettes, we will continue to monitor the science as further studies are conducted.
[vii] See, eg, http://gizmodo.com/why-e-cigarettes-might-not-be-as-safe-as-you-think-1589485508 , http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/129/19/1972.full , http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/23/suppl_2/ii36.full and http://www.cdph.ca.gov/Pages/NR15-12.aspxbirth defects, e-cigarettes, labels, vaping