Are e-cigs tobacco products?

Things have kind of gone to hell and back recently, so I have had zero time at all to put my fingers to key and keep this blog updated. Much has happened which has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere. I may revisit some of those points at some point in the near future, but that depends on time; which as I’ve already pointed out, I don’t have a lot of. Who knew married life would be so busy?

This article caught my attention quite late in the day and is entitled the same as this humble post. “Are e-cigarettes tobacco products?”

The short answer is, quite obvious. No, they aren’t. However. As succinctly pointed out in the article:

In 2014 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US concluded that they are (1), and we regularly receive submissions describing e-cigarettes as tobacco products. However, this judgement is the product of policy developments around the role of the FDA and their ability to provide regulative guidance and authority relating to a range of products. Products that contain nicotine derived from tobacco fall within a court-endorsed legal framework for FDA regulation.

Just as with the European Union, the FDA considers vapour products as tobacco products. It is merely a legislative facilitation, however, many groups – and yes, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, I am looking at you – are insistent that vapour products or ecigs if you prefer that name, are tobacco products.

A trip through their press releases, aside from causing severe blood pressure spikes, clearly demonstrates how they conflate the two products. Much to the detriment of your average Jane (or Joe, I don’t want to be sexist here) who now, quite firmly believe that ecigs are as bad, if not worse, than smoking.

Slow hand clap.

However, describing e-cigarettes as tobacco products is a particularly US phenomenon.

Except, it isn’t.

Some countries include e-cigarettes in tobacco product regulation, but others do not.

That’s because those countries, or political entities in the case of the European Union, view electronic cigarettes as tobacco products. The clue, as you would say, is in the name:

Electronic. Cigarette.

Unfortunately for consumers, or fortunately depending on your point of view, the name has stuck despite many attempts to call them something more akin to their function. This is why you’ll hear many in the US particularly, refer to the products as “vapour products”.

That’s a far more accurate description than “electronic cigarette”.

In Europe, while some elements of e-cigarette regulation are contained within the EU Tobacco Products Directive, the devices themselves are not referred to as tobacco products.

Except the perception of the general populace is such that a nuance like this is entirely missed, and thus ecigs/vapour products are deliberately mis-categorised frequently.

If all products containing nicotine derived from tobacco were labelled as “tobacco products” internationally, then nicotine replacement therapies would be classified as tobacco products, which they are clearly not.

Which should be clear to anyone with an ounce of common-bloody-sense, no?

Thus, we come to some alternative naming from the author:

Our preference is for the term “tobacco products” to be reserved for those products that are made from and contain tobacco (rather than contain constituents such as nicotine extracted from it). The term “nicotine-containing products” is more general, and can be applied to tobacco products but also non-tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapies.

I can just imagine Doris strolling into her local newsagent and asking for a pack of 20 nicotine-containing products. This is the thing with scientific journals and academia in general, they simply don’t truly understand the language that real people use. It is language that I wish to, briefly, touch upon here.

Consider the following:

As I mentioned above, the clue is in the name. Electronic cigarette. What is a tobacco product? Mostly cigarettes and cigars. What is heated tobacco?

Well bless me, it’s an electronic cigarette, isn’t it? After all, the sticks contain tobacco and look very much like a mini cigarette! Regardless of the method of consumption – heating and inhaling a vapour instead of combustion and smoke, it is still a cig-a-like type product.

See the problem yet?

However, even the term nicotine-containing products does not apply to cases where aerosol-producing devices are used with liquids that do not contain nicotine – in this case distinguishing between vaping devices and liquids (which may or may contain nicotine) could be helpful.

Again, something we consumers already knew. I appreciate that the author does take the time to engage with consumers as often as possible, so I’m not trying to take anything away from them, but this is something that should have been settled a long time ago.

Another common description is electronic nicotine-delivery systems (ENDS), but again this is potentially problematic because not all devices are electronic (and again may deliver liquids that do not contain nicotine).

Except that pretty much every device that falls under the term ENDS (a hateful term coined by the World Health Organisation via the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) is, by the very definition, electronic. It is true that all devices can be used with, or without, nicotine, which is why the WHO and the Parties to the FCTC deigned to call those without nicotine as Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENNDS). Original, huh?

A simpler approach would therefore be to refer to “cigarettes”, “e-cigarettes” and so on, without reference to broad categories. The exception would be cases where e-cigarettes are being referred to in a specific policy context (e.g., in relation to the FDA). The guiding principle is that the terminology used should be clear, unambiguous, and scientifically appropriate.

As mentioned above, language is important. Particularly so in a scientific journal. Which is why the term “e-cigarette”, a foreshortened “electronic cigarette” encompasses heated tobacco. In fact, as argued above, an e-cigarette, by the very language used, is actually a heated tobacco product and not what we, as vapers, use regularly.

Therefore, shouldn’t we be classifying heat-not-burn and vapour products as what they are? Both are harm reduction products (thanks for the prompt Adam!). Both, to varying degrees, are pleasurable to use for the individual, and both have ‘public health’ trying to eat itself.

4 thoughts on “Are e-cigs tobacco products?

  1. I have seen eliquid for sale containing nicotine extracted from the stalks of tomato plants. If this became wide-spread, then surely, classifying it as a tobacco product is “a legislative facilitation”.


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