A majority of Americans say electronic cigarettes should be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration the same way the agency handles cigarettes containing tobacco, according to results from the latest NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll.
Overall, 57 percent of people said the FDA should regulate e-cigarettes like tobacco products. The proportion of people in favor of regulation rose with age and education. Nearly, two-thirds of people with college degrees or graduate degrees supported regulation compared with 48 percent with high school diplomas or less.
The Food and Drug Administration proposed regulations for e-cigarettes in April 2014. Since then the agency has collected comments and held workshops on the public health issues raised by the products.
The agency sent its e-cigarette regulations to the White House on Oct. 19 for a required review, agency spokesman Michael Felberbaum tells Shots. The Office of Management and Budget has to pore over major regulations before they can be into effect.
Some of the key parts of the proposal included a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, a requirement that the products carry warnings they contain nicotine and disclosure of ingredients by manufacturers.
How much the FDA may have changed the regulations since they were first proposed isn't clear because the agency doesn't publicly release what it sends to the White House for sign-off. The White House can further tweak the rules, too.
We may find out fairly soon, though. There is a 90-day timetable for OMB review. The White House can extend the review to allow for more back and forth on the rules.
In the meantime, plenty of Americans have tried e-cigarettes. The NPR-Truven Health poll found that a quarter of respondents had vaped at least once. About a quarter of the respondents said they are current tobacco users.
What's drawing people to e-cigarettes? The most common reasons given from those who have tried them were: to help stop smoking cigarettes (27 percent), as a healthier alternative to tobacco (26 percent) and curiosity (24 percent).
Among people who have tried e-cigarettes, half continue to use them. But 40 percent of current vapers said they have concerns about the health effects.
"Electronic cigarettes have exploded in popularity in just a few short years, but we still know very little about the health risks associated with the technology," said Dr. Michael Taylor, chief medical officer at Truven Health Analytics. "With our data showing a 50 percent adoption rate among those who have tried e-cigarettes, it's reasonable to expect that usage will continue to grow, even as traditional cigarette smoking declines. This is clearly an area that will require a great deal more research."
More than 3,000 people were surveyed about e-cigarettes during the first half of August. The responses came from households contacted by cellphone, land line and the Internet. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.8 percentage points.