The Indiana State Department of Health is wading cautiously into the regulation of electronic cigarettes after the Food and Drug Administration announced last week it would start regulating the new products.
Anti-smoking advocates say the state is not doing enough, but e-cigarette advocates like Jami Rakes say over-regulation could have negative consequences as well.
Are E-Cigs Healthier Than Traditional Cigarettes?
Rakes smoked for 25 years and up until a year ago, she was smoking as many as two packs a day. She says it’s not just the nicotine that kept her habit going. She liked the feel of having a cigarette in her hand and the routine of inhaling the tobacco and blowing out the smoke.
So she wasn’t really interested in quitting until last year when she learned about a new device.
“The vapor made me quit because I went straight from smoking to vaping, and I never smoked a cigarette after I got my e-cigarette,” Rakes says.
Vaping as Rakes calls it means smoking electronic cigarettes.
Here’s how it works:
An e-cigarette is a battery powered device that contains nicotine mixed with propylene glycol—a liquid that’s found in a variety of products from shampoo to asthma inhalers. As you inhale, the device converts the liquid to vapor, which you then breathe out.
A key difference between these products and traditional cigarettes is that e-cigs don’t have tobacco in them, and that’s why Rakes say they’re a safer and healthier alternative.
“I’ve felt nothing but better, since I started vaping. I can breathe better I don’t get winded, I could probably run around the building and be fine at this point whereas before I’d make it about a quarter and be out of breath,” she says.
But many health experts say it’s too early to tell if e-cigs really are better for you.
“Studies we’ve seen so far is that the electronic cigarette is not in an evidence-based way to help people quit smoking, at least quit smoking long term,” says Miranda Spitznagle, the Director of the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission at Indiana State Department of Health.
There have also been few studies that indicate whether the liquid in e-cigarettes have negative health effects.
Cigarette Companies Enter E-Cig Market
Cigarette companies, meanwhile, are investing in e-cigarettes.
The reasons make a lot of sense.
States have been increasing taxes on cigarettes and implementing outright smoking bans.
Meanwhile, e-cig sales brought in an estimated $1 billion last year and in many states, including Indiana, they’re not nearly as regulated.
However, some states are taking some steps to increase oversight.
Many states are starting to include-cigarettes in indoor smoking bans. Others, have moved to define e-cigarettes as tobacco products so all the same laws that apply to cigarettes also apply to e-cigs, and California is restricting e-cigarette advertising online.
Indiana already bans the sale of e-cigs to minors, but Indiana Department of Health officials say they’re waiting for the FDA to finalize its rules before taking any further steps to regulate the products or the companies that sell them.
Indiana is at the heart of the new market.
The state has long been a test market for tobacco companies and last year, Nu Mark, a sister company to cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris, also tested its new e-cigarette Mark Ten in Indiana.
Nu Mark spokesman David Sylvia wouldn’t say why his company chose Indiana as a test market, but said they also tried out the product in Arizona and soon it will be on shelves across the country.
“They always seem to pick Indiana to test-market their products,” says Jon Macy, an assistant professor at Indiana University’s School of Public Health. “They test-marketed some of the new smokeless chewing tobacco products, the snus and orbs and sticks. I think they pick Indiana because of our high rates of tobacco use in the state. Relatively lax tobacco control policies in terms of the amount of money we spend on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.”
Anti-smoking advocates say allowing Indiana to be a test market, sends the message that the state supports smoking and it isn’t serious about getting people to quit.
“We need more research dollars, for sure, to address emerging issues,” Macy says. “The tobacco industry out spends us by a lot in Indiana and nationwide and in terms of being able to do research to figure out their marketing strategies and the impact of their marketing is difficult when you don’t have the resource to do the research.”
Dedicating Research Dollars To E-Cigarettes
Indiana hasn’t allocated money toward researching e-cigarettes and has limited money dedicated to getting people to quit smoking traditional cigarettes.
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimates Indiana collects more than $500 million each year from tobacco taxes. Only $5.8 million of that goes towards tobacco cessation programs and research.
That puts Indiana in about the middle of the pack when compared to how much other states spend on anti-smoking programs, but it’s less than 10 percent of what the Centers for Disease control and prevention say Indiana should be spending.
While Indiana’s smoking rate is declining along with the national average, it still ranks in the top ten states nationally with more than one in five adults smoking.
Back at the vape shop in Indianapolis, Rakes says business has been booming, and she only expects it to grow.
“Business is awesome. We probably get anywhere from 10-15 new customers a day that want to quit smoking,” Rakes says.
She says while she supports regulations on e-cigarettes, she’s just hoping the industry doesn’t become as regulated as the cigarette industry has—something she says could put a strain on her bottom line.