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The FDA’s War on E-cigarettes

Editor, eCigs HQ

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

The FDA's War on E-cigarettes illustration.

Despite an ever-increasing number of studies demonstrating that electronic cigarettes are no more dangerous than their big-pharma product counterparts, the FDA has refused to alter its misguided stance on electronic smoking products. What’s really at play here, and who is the FDA really protecting?

Experts predict the global death toll of cigarettes will approach 1 billion lives lost this century. But misguided or agenda-driven public health officials worldwide are condemning one hope for slowing this catastrophe — electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes”…” 1

Dr. Gilbert Ross

Executive and Medical Director
The American Council on Science and Health


By providing inhaled doses of nicotine in vapor form, electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) are proving to be a far healthier option than conventional tobacco cigarettes, and perhaps our best hope in the battle against tobacco-related disease.

However, the FDA has been critical of the new devices, calling into question their potential for harm reduction and suggesting that the vapor may be harmful to users and those around them. Proponents of e-cigarettes argue that the FDA’s position is based on limited data from a single small, insufficient and biased study. Whether the FDA is being swayed by the combined weight of the tobacco and pharmaceutical lobbies (which have much to lose from this new competitor) 2, or are being unduly influenced by anti-smoking zealots (who are simply unable to tolerate the thought of a “safe cigarette”), makes little difference. They have unquestionably positioned themselves on the wrong side of history. Unfortunately, the stakes could not be much higher as the fate of millions of addicted smokers hangs in the balance. 3

This article will explore how e-cigarettes are different than their tobacco counterparts, and what is behind their growing popularity, while reviewing evidence relating to their safety and potential benefits.

How e-cigarettes work

When a traditional tobacco cigarette is smoked, the dried tobacco, inside a paper wrapping, is burned and the resulting smoke inhaled. Electronic cigarettes work differently. They use liquid containing nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco. This liquid is typically propylene glycol, sometimes mixed with vegetable glycerine, and is known as “smoke juice”. For those who want to enjoy the experience of smoking without the addictive element, nicotine-free versions of the smoke cartridges are widely available.

Taken against the very real dangers associated with tobacco use, the far more nebulous and unproven risks that might theoretically arise from e-cigarette use seem negligible…”

Laura Conzo Brady
eCigs HQ Editor

When the e-cigarette is “smoked”, no combustion actually takes place. Instead, the liquid inside the cartridge is heated to produce a vapor that the user inhales in the same way as smoke from a traditional cigarette. The “smoke juice” is often given a dash of flavoring to make the inhalation more pleasurable. Typically, this flavor imitates tobacco for a more authentic experience, although other flavors are available. Coffee, vanilla, fruit, candy and menthol flavors are popular.

The exact designs and specifications may vary but an e-cigarette typically consists of three principle components:

  1. Vaporization chamber;
  2. Rechargeable lithium battery;
  3. Detachable cartridge containing the nicotine liquid.

The vaporization chamber contains a heating coil and various electronic controls plus an atomizer. The atomizer produces the inhalable vapor. The rechargeable lithium battery powers the unit. The cartridge is fixed to the end of the vaporization chamber. Often designed to look like the filter of a traditional cigarette, the cartridge also serves as the mouthpiece for the unit.

The user activates the e-cigarette either by pressing a switch or, in the case of some models, simply inhaling. This causes the atomizer’s heating coil to turn on, which heats the “smoke juice” in the cartridge and turns it into a vapor that the user then inhales. When the nicotine liquid is exhausted, the old cartridge is removed and a new one added. The lithium battery is recharged through the use of a charger, much like a cell phone. 4


An e-cigarette may have various additional features. While the most popular designs seem to be those that look like an ordinary cigarette, with a white body and a smoke cartridge disguised as a light-brown filter, there are many other forms available. E-cigarettes are available in unconventional and eye-catching colors, such as black, metallic or pastel shades. E-cigarettes shaped like cigars or pipes are available. E-cigarettes often come in a “pack” which houses the charger unit for the lithium battery. The e-cigarette is placed in a socket inside the packet, which also holds the spare smoke cartridges.

Many models have an LED indicator that lights when the e-cigarette is activated. The LED indicator is sometimes red or orange to simulate a flame, but green, blue or white LEDs are often used instead. This is partly for reasons of style and partly to avoid confusion when using the e-cigarette in a non-smoking environment.


Although the primitive concept of an electronic cigarette has been around for some decades, Hon Lik, a Chinese innovator and pharmacist, is credited with devising the first truly workable electronic cigarette. Hon Lik, himself a heavy smoker, came up with the idea for his cigarette in the early 2000s and patented his design in 2004. After some refinements the “Ruyan” cigarette was made available to the Chinese public and became a great success. 5


…wide-ranging studies have appeared to contradict the FDA’s position…”

Laura Conzo Brady
eCigs HQ Editor

The electronic cigarette concept soon spread to markets outside of China, finding a receptive consumer base in the US and many European nations. Some countries have taken the step of banning e-cigarettes outright, or classifying them as medical devices and restricting their sale. In many others, however, the devices can be advertised and sold freely. Where legal, e-cigarettes enjoy growing popularity. This is partly in response to the growing number of smoking bans affecting public buildings such as bars and restaurants. In many regions, sales continue to grow and show no signs of diminishing. 6


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