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Is it a good idea to regulate electronic cigarettes?

electronic-cigarettesIn a first move to rein in the burgeoning electronic cigarette industry, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US has laid out proposals to regulate tobacco products that include e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and hookah tobacco. The FDA proposal would prohibit the sale of the newly-designated tobacco products, including 'e-cigarettes', to those younger than 18 years old.

'It would also require health warnings on tobacco products, and for the FDA to review those products before they are marketed,' the US health agency said in a press release. E-cigarettes, which contain nicotine extracted from tobacco leaves, have been hailed by some as a safer alternative to cigarettes and smoking. However, some worry that unfettered marketing of these pseudo-cigarettes would attract new users - particularly children - to the world of tobacco products. (Read: Are electronic cigarettes actually safe for you?)

In 2013, researchers at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found that e-cigarette use by middle and high school children had doubled between 2011 and 20121, said a Nature report. The FDA proposal is open to public comment for 75 days and a final ruling may be issued after those comments have been reviewed. 'We are eager to see this process move forward,' FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg was quoted as saying. The FDA is also evaluating whether it should limit the flavours being marketed: e-cigarettes, for example, come in candy-flavoured options that may be particularly appealing to children.(Read: Could electronic cigarettes save a million lives?)

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'One key benefit of the FDA's proposal is that it would require manufacturers of e-cigarettes to report the ingredients in their products,' said Vaughan Rees from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. Some studies have found traces of heavy metals and other contaminants in e-cigarettes, he noted in the Nature report. (Read: The new smart e-cigarettes can help you keep track of your smokes)

What are e-cigarettes?

An electronic cigarette is a device that mimics the entire smoking process by producing a mist which has the same sensation (sometimes the same flavour too) of smoking. The concept of an electronic cigarette has been around since the 60s but tobacco consumption wasn't really considered hazardous back then and it took until 2003 for the first smokeless e-cigarette to hit the market.

Electronic cigarettes manufacturers claim that they are like real cigarettes except that there are no hazardous health implications because there is no combustion, no tobacco and no smoking. Also since there is no passive smoking, second hand smoke and pollution due to butt litter or smoke.

What's in an e-cig?

The e-cigarette basically consists of three parts: Cartridge, Atomizer and Power supply

The cartridge's a mouthpiece (like a cigarette's butt) that usually holds the liquid that is to be vaporized. The atomizer serves as a heating element and vaporizes the liquid and each of them contains a power supply like a chargeable plug, USB drive or batteries.

An e-cigarette produces nicotine infused vapour and though it looks like smoke is actually atomised air. Some e-cigs replace this nicotine vapour with other flavours like vanilla, chocolate, etc. though certain anti-smoking groups feel this could encourage minors to smoke. As a smoking cessation tool some manufactures even look to replicate the flavour of particular brands like Marlboro, Camel, etc. (Read: Electronic Cigarettes what are they?)

With inputs from IANS

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