ORLANDO, Fla. - The clock is ticking on the Food and Drug Administration to make a decision on electronic cigarettes.
Dozens of state attorney generals, as well as leading healthcare advocacy organizations like the American Heart Association, sent the FDA a letter last Tuesday urging them to regulate e-cigarettes like they do regular tobacco. The groups want it to happen by the end of October.
The letter came amid a Centers for Disease control report that e-cigarette use has doubled among teenagers, and the dawning of a new era of television advertisements.
E-cigarette makers have been running commercials on late-night cable and in July, they began testing spots on broadcast television in Colorado.
The spots are actually coming from major tobacco manufacturers like RJ Reynolds and Lorillard, increasing fears that e-cigarette use will lead to conventional tobacco use.
"We don't know enough about e-cigarettes yet to know exactly how dangerous they are," said Bruce Inverso, a Senior Vice President for Health Strategies with the American Heart Association.
Inverso said they want the FDA to look into electronic cigarettes to find out exactly what is in them, and how much nicotine users are getting in every puff.
"Nicotine is not good for you regardless, it's not good for your heart health and it's extremely and highly addictive," he said.
A recent Brown University study found that nicotine alone, with or without smoke, can lead to Atherosclerosis which is an accumulation of plaque in blood vessels.
But e-cigarettes have been the saving grace for countless tobacco smokers who relied on the devices to quit.
"I can't tell you to use this to quit smoking, but that's what the greater majority of people do," said Jeremey Siegel, who owns the Vapor Shoppe, an online e-cigarette retailer.
Siegel started selling the devices after using it to quit smoking five years ago.
The products work by heating up liquid with a lithium-ion battery, so when the user inhales it creates a puff of smoke.
Siegel sells products with rechargeable batteries and refillable liquid cartridges as well as liquid in various flavors that come with or without nicotine.
The main ingredients in the liquid, according to Siegel, are glycerol and a food grade propylene glycol to create the vapor.
"Both of those substances by themselves are FDA approved for human consumption, but when you put them together as a whole we cannot advertise them as FDA approved," said Siegel.
If the FDA did regulate the industry, as the American Heart Association and others have called for, specific information regarding what is contained in each e-cigarette would be available as well as rules regarding how the products could be marketed.
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Right now, there is no legislation in Florida banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, but a bill was filed Monday to try create one.
"They're using cartoon characters like the cigarette companies used to do and they're advertising on television, which cigarettes haven't been able to be advertised on television since the early 70s," said Inverso.
In reality, it's cigarette maker Lorillard using a cartoon to market the Blu e-cigarette brand, which they purchased last year.
Siegel said he feels it's deceiving for the tobacco makers to sell electronic cigarettes under different brand names.
"Former smokers want to get away from big tobacco as much as they want to get away from smoking," he said.
Lorillard makes Newport and Kent cigarettes but also owns the Blu e-cigs and UK based SKYCIG.
RJ Reynolds, who makes Camel and Kool, is now also making and advertising Vuse e-cigarettes.
Altria, the parent company of Marlboro maker Phillip Morris, is America's largest tobacco company and even they debuted the MarkTen electronic cigarette this year.
"E-cigarette sales continued to expand every year and now they are taking the approach, if you can't beat them join them," said Siegel.
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