Electronic cigarettes are big business. Bloomberg estimates global sales may reach 7.5 billion in 2015, up from 3.5 billion last year.
Frank Angiulo knows firsthand how popular e-cigarettes have become. He recently opened his second Vapor Hut store, this one in Algonquin. And beyond the economic success he's had, he also claims to have helped between 3,000 and 4,000 people to quit smoking by switching to e-cigs.
And therein lies the problem for the federal, state and local agencies trying to regulate this new industry.
While we don't doubt Angiulo's sincerity, there is little scientific evidence to prove that smokers actually are quitting or even that electronic cigarettes are safe. Some claim they are more of a gateway to smoking.
And so we are strongly in favor of the proposal announced last week by the Food and Drug Administration that is expected to lead to product regulations.
In fact, we would like the FDA to go even further and limit the marketing of electronic cigarettes, which some say has targeted young people the same way tobacco companies did in years past.
A survey released last month by a group of Democratic members of Congress showed six of nine companies surveyed had sponsored or provided free samples at 348 events in the last two years, including music festivals and Grand Prix races. A majority of the companies also offered flavors such as cherry crush and vanilla dreams.
"These are the same tactics that were used by major cigarette manufacturers before they were banned," said Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. "Our findings demonstrate the FDA regulation of e-cigarettes is necessary to prevent manufacturers from targeting youth with aggressive marketing practices."
At least one local school district has seen the effects of the marketing firsthand. "It's just starting to become a problem and we are trying to nip it in the bud," said Terry Awrey, Huntley Unit District 158's associate superintendent. "Over 40 years ago, they took the commercials off for cigarettes, and now they are doing it again with e-cigarettes."
District 158 is poised to ban the products and students could face suspension and even expulsion if they bring e-cigs onto school property.
It's a good move, and we urge other districts to to do the same.
The FDA, in announcing its proposal last week, said it needed to study the use of e-cigarettes and their potential health risks before further regulations on marketing could be enacted.
More studies are definitely needed so those tempted to try e-cigs know definitively what they can expect from using them. And we expect the FDA to move appropriately so as to limit the damage that could be done to our youth if the marketing isn't changed soon.