Rethinking Healthcare

The e-cigarette scam

Posting in Technology

Just so you know that if you decide to addict yourself to these things today, the FDA may make you quit them in 2012. And that won't be easy.

There's a hot new tech trend in the "tobacco" world, and on the Internet.

It's called the e-cigarette. It's a battery-powered tube that mixes a nicotine cartridge with propylene glycol, delivering it in a controlled way while you suck on the end (as you would tobacco).

The cartridges come in different strengths, and can come in different flavors.

Makers of the e-cigs, like Cilini, claim in Internet ads the product has social advantages. Publicly, they're touted as a way to get off cigarettes, like nicotine lozenges or patches.

So why have they also been made in flavors like cookies-and-cream, strawberry and banana? This caused California attorney general (and gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown to run some of them out of that state this week.

On the federal level, e-cigarettes exist in a nether world of deregulation. Right now nicotine lozenges and patches are available over-the-counter, although they're regulated as drugs.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed into law last year, gives the FDA three years to think about what to do, not only about e-cigarettes, but lozenges and patches and all the rest. The UK is moving toward an outright ban on e-cigs.

Nicotine is the active ingredient in tobacco, and is highly addictive. Anti-smoking activists call it as addictive as crack. (This is not news.) Imagine if someone were trying to sell your kids banana-flavored heroin in a vial they could suck (instead of having to chase the dragon), and you get some idea of how anti-smoking activists think about e-cigarettes.

Yet e-cigs are easier to buy online than textbooks. There are slick-looking reviews (the picture above comes from one), distributors call them "a healthier alternative," and the makers brag you can use them anywhere.

The Google has 12.9 million links to e-cigarettes, and the first of those links that's negative, an FDA list of concerns, was the 51st I found in a search just now. (There's a video from that link above.) To all intents and purposes the market for these things is wide-open.

The reason you don't have versions of this technology for cocaine, heroin or THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) is because those particular substances are banned as dangerous drugs. Nicotine is just as dangerous, but because the tobacco industry has fought so hard in Washington for so long it's not yet treated that way.

Just so you know that if you decide to addict yourself to these things today, the FDA may make you quit them in 2012. And that won't be easy.

Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure