FDA Cautions Public About Electronic Cigarettes

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 22, 2009; 6:04 PM

The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that an analysis of leading brands of electronic cigarettes, a new type of "smokeless" nicotine product, detected carcinogens and a chemical used in antifreeze that is toxic to humans.

Officials at the FDA and other public health experts cautioned consumers against using the products, saying that the health effects of electronic cigarettes are unknown.

"The FDA is concerned about the safety of these products and how they are marketed to the public," said Margaret A. Hamburg, the agency's commissioner.

The FDA studied the ingredients in cartridges from two leading brands of electronic cigarettes. In one sample, it detected diethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze. Other samples turned up carcinogens, including nitrosamines, according to the agency.

Electronic cigarettes, also called "e-cigarettes," are battery-operated devices that generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine, flavor and other chemicals. The electronic cigarette turns nicotine, which is highly addictive, and other chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user. Since they produce no smoke, they can be used in workplaces, restaurants and airports.

The products are relatively new and began appearing on the market about five years ago, sold over the Internet, in mall kiosks and in stores. They often come in candy and fruit flavors, leading critics to charge that they are being targeted toward children.

The FDA considers e-cigarettes to be drug devices and, as such, says that manufacturers must first get federal approval to market them. It has refused to allow imports of e-cigarettes.

In May, two e-cigarette suppliers filed suit against the FDA to allow the shipments, claiming that the regulatory agency has no authority over the products. The suit is pending in a District federal court.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company