Politics & Government

E-cigarettes may not be part of FDA tobacco regulation

As the government tightens regulations on tobacco and smoking, some people have found a new way to get their nicotine fix without smoke and ash: electronic cigarettes.

E-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine that users inhale along with a nearly odorless vapor-mist that mimics smoke, are practically unregulated and have not been rigorously tested in the United States. That doesn't faze users such as David Moss.

Moss, 55, smoked traditional cigarettes for 40 years, but quit about six months ago after discovering a battery-operated version that provides the nicotine his body craves without the tar-filled smoke.

Moss, who lives in Durham and once smoked three packs a day, wasn't bothered by the lack of studies on the e-cigarette.

"It's unproven," he said, "but I have no fear because I'm not smoking cigarettes."

E-cigarettes are available online as well as in a number of gas stations and at least one mall in the Triangle.

Earlier this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began cracking down on the import of the devices, stopping shipments at the border. Most e-cigarettes are manufactured in China.

"Basically, we don't have any data on these products," said Karen Riley, an FDA spokeswoman.

E-cigarette starter kits can cost $100 or more. The cigarette, which is legal to possess, is often made of three pieces: a replaceable nicotine cartridge, an atomizer and a rechargeable battery. The cartridges come in a variety of flavors, including strawberry cheesecake, chocolate and tobacco, and nicotine-free versions are available. The atomizer, or heating element, warms when the user inhales and uses propylene glycol, a liquid used in theatrical smoke machines, to create the smokelike vapors.

The odor, nearly undetectable, is not immediately offensive to those nearby, the way cigarette smoke can be to nonsmokers.

President Barack Obama has said that he will soon sign legislation to give the FDA power to regulate tobacco. But that new law includes no guidance specific to electronic cigarettes.

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