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An Ounce of Prevention: Increasing Regulation and Legal Concerns for the Electronic Cigarette Industry


As electronic cigarettes grow in popularity, there is a growing debate about their health effects. Electronic cigarettes, also known as "e-cigarettes," are battery powered devices that generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine and flavoring chemicals which are turned into vapor and inhaled by their users. It is estimated that e-cigarette sales will top $2 billion in the United States in 2014.

The rise in popularity of e-cigarettes can be attributed to the notion that it is a potentially safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, a perception based on the idea that the vapor generated by e-cigarettes is safer than the smoke generated by traditional cigarettes. However, recently the health effects of electronic cigarette vapor has come into focus. While the health effects of electronic cigarette use will become clearer as further studies are conducted, it appears that as opposed to being safer than traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes may just pose a different kind of health concern.

Recent studies conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the University of California, San Francisco, have shown that vapor generated by e-cigarettes contain varying levels of carbonyls and volatile organic compounds including formaldehyde and toluene; chemicals found on California's Proposition 65 list of toxic chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. These studies have resulted in increased regulation of e-cigarettes in major cities across the country and opened the door for potential lawsuits. In April 2014, the city of Santa Clarita banned the use of e-cigarettes in bars, restaurants, and other public facilities. Earlier in the year, a class action lawsuit was filed in Santa Ana, California, (Orange County Superior Court, case no.: 30-2014-00705711-CU-FR-CXC) against a leading independent manufacturer and distributer of e-cigarettes alleging that the company deceptively markets e-cigarettes as harmless, even though they are known to contain potentially harmful chemicals. Furthermore, on August 8, 2014, twenty-nine state attorneys general, including the attorneys general for California and New York, requested the FDA increase regulation on e-cigarettes to be on par with the FDA's regulation of traditional cigarettes. This includes age restrictions, advertising restrictions, flavor restrictions, and requiring new warning labels about the potential health hazards associated with electronic cigarette use.

While the full scope of potential health effects of e-cigarette use is still unknown, it is clear that increased regulation and potential lawsuits against e-cigarette manufacturers and distributors are on the horizon. Manufacturers and distributors must tread cautiously about touting the potential benefits of e-cigarettes and should prepare for increased scrutiny by not only various levels of government, but also by consumers.

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