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State Health Director Urges Caution Regarding Electronic Cigarettes

For release: Immediate    Nov. 5, 2010
Contact: Julie Henry 919-707-5053

RALEIGH – On the eve of the Great American Smokeout, State Health Director Jeff Engel, M.D., urged citizens to use caution when considering the purchase and use of electronic cigarettes – also known as e-cigarettes. The products, which are not regulated, are typically marketed as a “safe alternative” to smoking.

“E-cigarettes are not currently regulated; therefore, there is no way to know if they are safe or effective,” Engel said. “They are available in shopping malls and online and are sold with no age restriction, so they can easily be purchased and used by children and teens.”

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat liquid cartridges containing nicotine and deliver that nicotine to the user in the form of a vapor. Mostly manufactured in China, these devices are usually made to look like tobacco products, such as cigarettes and cigars. Nicotine cartridges come in a variety of flavors, such as strawberry, banana and chocolate.

There is some concern that e-cigarettes could quickly cause high levels of addiction among teens who are attracted to the appealing flavors.

“These products look like cigarettes and deliver nicotine like cigarettes,” said Sally Herndon, head of the Division of Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch. “A single cartridge contains enough puffs to equal up to a pack or more of cigarettes, so a new smoker, or even an experienced smoker, could be taking in much more nicotine than he or she realizes.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has analyzed a small number of e-cigarettes and cartridges and found that some contained known cancer-causing chemicals, and others contained diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze, which is toxic to humans.

The FDA has issued warning letters to five distributors of e-cigarettes for violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. These violations include unsubstantiated health claims and poor manufacturing processes. The FDA plans to regulate e-cigarettes eventually in a manner consistent with its mission of protecting the public’s health.

In the meantime, North Carolina’s public health officials remain concerned that people will fall victim to false health claims of these devices.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking an e-cigarette is a safe alternative to smoking, or a sure-fire way to quit,” Engel said. “There is no scientific evidence that either of those assumptions is true.”