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FDA wants to extinguish electronic cigarettes

e-cigarette, electronic cigarette, CESThose who like to get their nicotine fix electronically will be disappointed to hear that a U.S. Food and Drug Administration report earlier this week found that electronic cigarettes, or "e-cigarettes," contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.

The draw of e-cigarettes is supposed to be their ability to let smokers regulate their nicotine intake (nicotine is sold in disposable cartridges containing differing amounts) while producing water vapor, as opposed to secondhand smoke. The smoker inhales doses of nicotine vaporized with the help of a solvent such as propylene glycol. E-cigarettes, which were all the rage at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, are battery-operated plastic tubes made to look like cigarettes (or in some cases cigars and pipes).

Concerned that e-cigarette products do not contain health warnings comparable to FDA-approved nicotine replacement products or conventional cigarettes, the agency has begun looking into how the products are being marketed. Besides finding traces of the toxic antifreeze component diethylene glycol, the FDA's Division of Pharmaceutical Analysis also discovered carcinogens such as nitrosamines in the samples it tested.

Put on the defensive by the FDA's seizure of e-cigarette shipments at U.S. borders, makers of these products have challenged in federal district court the agency's jurisdiction over this situation. In a May court filing, e-cigarette makers Sunrise, Fla.–based Smoking Everywhere, Inc., and Sottera, Inc., in Scottsdale, Ariz., (makers of the NJOY brand) sought a preliminary injunction against the FDA's seizures. The agency earlier this month responded with a document stating the confiscations should be allowed to continue because the e-cigarettes meet the definition of both a drug and device under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act signed into law last month.

Image of NJOY e-cigarette at CES 2009 © SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN/LARRY GREENEMEIER

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