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July 24, 2017

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Healthier than tobacco?

Although unapproved, a new way of obtaining a nicotine high is gaining ground in U.S.

There’s a new cigarette on the American market whose nicotine can be inhaled anywhere, even in areas governed by “clean indoor air” laws. It comes with a battery.

Electronic cigarettes, manufactured mostly in China, have been for sale in Asian markets for a few years. Now they are making inroads in this country. Sales here by way of the Internet, TV infomercials and mall kiosks have become brisk, according to a New York Times story published this week.

Cartridges that are both refillable and replaceable are the business end of electronic cigarettes, which contain no tobacco and emit an unregulated, seemingly harmless mist but no smoke. The most popular cartridges are those that contain nicotine, the drug craved by tobacco addicts.

The perceived advantage of e-cigarettes is that the hundreds of other harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke are not present.

Some brands resemble pens while others look almost like regular cigarettes. The main idea is to give tobacco smokers the sensation they’ve grown comfortable with — holding a cigarette between their fingers and inhaling every few seconds to achieve a nicotine high.

E-cigarettes are even packed with propylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze and in theater productions to simulate smoke. This gives them a “lit” look.

Many smokers are turning to the product as a way of either kicking or reducing their tobacco habit. Other people are trying it out of curiosity. As the Times pointed out, however, studies of e-cigarettes have never been completed in this country, either by private labs or by the Food and Drug Administration.

In fact, the FDA has never even authorized e-cigarettes to be sold in the United States. An FDA official interviewed by the Times called them “unapproved drug device products.”

Nevertheless, e-cigarettes are here and they are growing in popularity. The FDA would be doing the public a service by undertaking a study to determine the extent of their effects on health.

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