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E-Cigarette Injury Reports to FDA Include Variety of Health Problems

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E-cigarettes may be more harmful to a person’s health than originally thought, according to the findings of a recent investigation that found the devices have been linked to a variety of injuries, including burns, nicotine toxicity and respiratory problems. 

The battery powered devices have grown in popularity in recent years, amid aggressive marketing as an alternative to traditional cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes or e-cigs heat a nicotine liquid solution into a vapor that is inhaled by the user, coming with varying amounts of nicotine and in hundreds of different flavors that critics claim are largely marketed towards teens.

According to an investigative report by Reuters, dozens of adverse events were submitted to the FDA between March 2013 and March 2014 involving e-cigarette injuries.

Among the 50 reports reviewed involving health problems from e-cigarettes were cases where users experienced difficulty breathing, headache, cough, dizziness, sore throat, nose bleeds, chest pain, allergic reactions, itchiness and swelling of the lips.

Several reports included side effects associated with “secondhand” vapor exposure from another person smoking an e-cigarette. Those reports also included cardiovascular side effects, such as wheezing and troubling breathing.

The summary comes shortly after it was reported that the number of e-cigarettes poisoning cases has spiked in recent years, with more than 200 calls coming in each month to poison control centers nationwide involving problems with the devices, more than half of which typically involve children.

Prior studies have also raised concerns about the potential risks associated with e-cigarettes for bystanders, suggesting the controversial devices may cause secondhand nicotine exposure. Researchers detected significant levels of secondhand nicotine emitted by the vapors from e-cigarettes.

The amount of complaints increased from the year before to last year. The rates of complaints are on par for the number reported over the last five years, however officials have no evidence side effect reports are rising.

Critics warn that the spike in the number of reports indicates the products should be regulated more closely, a move the FDA has considered for several years. Many are calling for strict regulations concerning manufacturing practices and labeling to avoid widespread problems.

Other FDA complaints included reports of devices exploding or overheating. Many of the  devices are manufactured in China and sold in the U.S. under more than 300 brand names. The quality of the construction varies widely, along with manufacturing standards making it somewhat difficult to pinpoint the cause of the health problems.

Concerns Over Youth Marketing

In recent months, manufacturers have come under scrutiny for advertising the devices to teens. E-cigarettes initially became popular after being promoted as an alternative to traditional cigarettes and a way to quit smoking, but have recently attracted congressional scrutiny for targeting underage users in advertising materials.

Recent studies have found users of e-cigarettes are no more likely to quit smoking than smokers who don’t use the controversial devices.

E-cigarettes have already been banned in many countries, including Brazil, Norway and Singapore. In the U.S. the FDA has no regulations governing the devices, however many states and cities have begun enacting laws banning e-cigarettes from public areas.

More than 20 states impose bans on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Others have begun to regulate the products similarly to traditional cigarettes.

Most recently, Los Angles joined the list of cities which impose bans on smoking the devices in bars, nightclubs, restaurants and other public areas.

Many city residents debated whether the ban should be enacted. The ban was eventually voted in unanimously by the city council in late February. Many critics hope the FDA will follow suit soon and regulate the manufacture and sale of the products.

Photo Courtesy of Lindsay Fox / CC by 2.0

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