Bills introduced recently in the state Legislature would impose a ban on e-cigarettes in indoor workplaces.
The proposals should be set aside, not necessarily because they are bad laws but because no government agency knows enough about e-cigarettes to make such decisions yet.
E-cigarettes were initially developed as a way to help longtime smokers quit smoking and use a battery-powered heating element to create a vapor that users inhale. Smokers inhale nicotine, which is addictive, without the tar and lung damage caused by smoking tobacco. Health researchers say they have found potential carcinogens and other harmful substances in e-cigarettes, while users say the switch from cigarettes to vapor-based nicotine has improved their health.
The federal Food and Drug Administration was given authority to oversee e-cigarettes five years ago, but only recently released a preliminary study on e-cigarettes and could be years away from providing actual guidance. The New York State Health Department has already banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors two years ago, a good step since e-cigarettes are a likely gateway for youth to begin smoking tobacco cigarettes.
FDA officials have taken some good steps. They have asked manufacturers to register e-cigarettes with the FDA, reveal ingredients and attach warning labels to e-cigarette products. Unfortunately, here is what we don't know - exactly what is in e-cigarettes, how addictive they are, what harm they potentially cause the body once the vapor enters the bloodstream, the benefits or harmful effects of various additives on the body's respiratory system, if the vapor is dangerous to other people,
It is also worth noting many people give e-cigarettes credit for helping them quit the much more harmful practice of smoking tobacco. The FDA has to determine how to keep e-cigarettes available to people they may actually help while keeping them out of the hands of youth who don't need any encouragement to begin smoking in the first place.
The federal Food and Drug Administration was asleep behind the wheel when it came to e-cigarettes. It had better move quickly to catch up.