As millions vape, e-cigarette researchers count puffs, scour Facebook

Mon Jul 7, 2014 1:11am EDT
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By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK (Reuters) - One team of researchers assessing the risks of electronic cigarettes is counting the puffs taken by volunteer "vapers." Another will comb Facebook for posts on how people are tinkering with e-cigarettes to make the devices deliver extra nicotine. A third is building a virtual convenience store for 13-to-17-year-olds, measuring how e-cigarette displays and price promotions influence whether minors buy the increasingly popular devices.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is spending $270 million on these and 45 other research projects to determine the risks of e-cigarettes before millions more Americans become hooked on the devices.

"They want data and they want it yesterday," said Dr Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin of Yale University, who is leading four projects.

    "Yesterday," however, is years away.

Final results may not be available before 2018, researchers leading the FDA-funded projects told Reuters. That timetable, which has not been reported before, underscores how the slow pace of science is contributing to a regulatory vacuum, allowing e-cigarette makers to sell their products virtually unchallenged.

To be sure, studies of e-cigarettes not funded by the FDA are also under way, and the agency can factor those results into any action it takes. But the FDA chose these 48 projects because they address questions central to future regulations.

The e-cigarette industry, which Wells Fargo Securities estimates will make $2 billion in global sales this year, says the FDA must wait for the results of the research before it issues any regulations, or manufacturers risk being driven out of business by unproven fears about their products.

"There shouldn't be regulations akin to those for cigarettes without evidence of similar health impact, especially since the preliminary evidence is positive for the industry" when it comes to comparing the contents of e-cigarette vapor to tobacco smoke, said attorney Bryan Haynes. His Richmond, Virginia-based firm Troutman Sanders represents e-cigarette manufacturers.   Continued...

A man uses an E-cigarette, an electronic substitute in the form of a rod, slightly longer than a normal cigarette, in this illustration picture taken in Paris, March 5, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann