It has taken us over 50 years of careful regulation with tremendous pushback to strip the tobacco companies of their ability to aggressively and falsely market cigarettes as safe products. The advent and popularity of e-cigarettes could wipe out much of that progress and endanger an entire generation of young people who are attracted to the slickly packaged cartridges, marketed to a youthful generation as a safe alternative to tobacco burning cigarettes.
I firmly believe that the United States Food and Drug Administration should have full authority to regulate e-cigarettes; the same full authority the agency currently has to regulate regular tobacco products. E-cigarettes are not made up of benign compounds. In fact, some of the ingredients such as formaldehyde are known carcinogens. With recent introductions of e-cigarettes from big tobacco companies such as Philip Morris, I believe they will pose some of the same risks as tobacco-burning projects unless they are regulated.
We know that nicotine is highly addictive, whether it is delivered from an e-cigarette, a regular cigarette or a patch. There is some data that nicotine may promote certain cancer signaling networks. There is also some very good evidence in young people that nicotine can cause the rewiring of the brain circuitry. Of greatest concern is recent data obtained from careful studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that show that people who use e-cigarettes are twice as likely to consider smoking tobacco burning products. In my view, this makes e-cigarettes a Trojan Horse that allows tobacco products into the lives of young people without the proper FDA regulation.
The full range of health risks posed by e-cigarettes is unclear because they have not been fully studied. Just because we don’t have all the scientific evidence does not mean that e-cigarettes should get a free or easy ride. They should be held to the full high bar, especially because we don’t currently understand all of the dangers they pose.
My biggest concern about e-cigarettes is that they are easily marketed to teens and young adults. The campaigns seem to be working since e-cigarette use has almost tripled in the last three years. Only 19% of Americans are active cigarette smokers, but that’s still far too high in my book. We should be concerned as a society that smoking rates will increase as a result if e-cigarettes continue to be sold without any regulation. E-cigarettes are a step backward in our goals to move towards a tobacco free society.
About Dr. Khuri
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD, deputy director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and Professor and Chairman of the Department of Hematology & Medical Oncology, Emory University School of Medicine, and executive associate dean for research of Emory University, is a leading researcher and physician in the treatment of lung and head and neck cancers. He is Editor-in-Chief of the American Cancer Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cancer.
Dr. Khuri’s contributions have been recognized by a number of national awards, including the prestigious 2013 Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Memorial Award, given to an outstanding cancer researcher by the American Association for Cancer Research.
An accomplished molecular oncologist and translational thought leader, Dr. Khuri has conducted seminal research on oncolytic viral therapy, developed molecular-targeted therapeutic approaches for lung and head and neck tumors combining signal transduction inhibitors with chemotherapy, and has led major chemoprevention efforts in lung and head and neck cancers. Dr. Khuri’s clinical interests include thoracic and head and neck oncology. His research interests include development of molecular, prognostic, therapeutic, and chemopreventive approaches to improve the standard of care for patients with tobacco related cancers. His laboratory is investigating the mechanism of action of signal transduction inhibitors in lung and aerodigestive track cancers.