FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. - Some federal regulators have been calling the e-cigarette industry the "wild, wild west,” concerned about the complete lack of government oversight while the business continues to boom.
But Thursday, the FDA announced proposed regulations that would put e-cigarettes in the same class as tobacco.
Health experts are worried about the potentially negative effects, and they say there is not much research out there about how harmful e-cigarettes might be.
"There are no studies showing us how much if any harm there is. We know it's not just water vapor that’s being expelled,” said Paula Ernst of the Washington County Health Department. “On the other hand, it looks as though it has the potential to cause less harm [than tobacco cigarettes]."
Those in favor of e-cigarettes say they are a good way to help smokers quit traditional cigarettes.
Vast Vapor in Greencastle says 99.9 percent of their customers are smokers. They also say one of their main goals is to help people quit smoking traditional cigarettes by teaching them how to use one e-cigarettes properly.
"Electronic cigarettes absolutely work on getting somebody off their smoking addiction,” said Vast Vapor owner Steve Kane, adding that in order to properly quit tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarettes need to be specifically tailored for individual use.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that use nicotine, water and other chemicals to create a flavored vapor.
Many users say they swear by it.
"I smoke between a pack and a pack a day,” said e-cigarette user Greg Poper. “The day I started vaping, it was the last day I smoked a cigarette."
"I can breathe better…my sense of smell is back, my taste is back,” said e-cigarette user Steve Hetzer.
The FDA’s proposed rules would ban sales to those under 18, require health warning labels, and prohibit vending machine sales.
Kane says his store already has their own rules and warnings in place. They do not sell to anyone under 18 and have health warning labels on their products.
"We believe there needs to be regulation,” said Kane. “I'm all for regulations with a common sense approach…and up until this point appears that [the FDA is] taking a common sense approach."
But anti-smoking advocates say even though they might be less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, people still need to be cautious of using e-cigarettes.
"[E-cigarettes] are not going to take all harm away,” said Ernst. “There is no safe level of nicotine.”
The FDA’s proposal also does not ban flavored e-cigarettes, on-line sales or TV commercials, which critics say could encourage younger people to pick up the habit.
The regulations are just a proposal at this point, which means it will take at least a year for them to take effect. However, FDA officials say their proposal is just a first-step.
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