Legality of e-cigarettes may run into ‘gray area’

Rrom+right+to+left%2C+graduate+students%2C+Benjamin+Slade%2C+Matt+Garley%2C+and+Lisa+Pierce+demonstrate+the+use+of+e-cigarettes+at+The+Blind+Pig%2C+a+bar+in+Champaign%2C+on+Wednesday%2C+Jan.+28%2C+2009.+E-cigarettes+have+not+yet+been+approved+by+the+FDA+and+may+be+in+danger+of+being+outlawed.%0A

Rrom right to left, graduate students, Benjamin Slade, Matt Garley, and Lisa Pierce demonstrate the use of e-cigarettes at The Blind Pig, a bar in Champaign, on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009. E-cigarettes have not yet been approved by the FDA and may be in danger of being outlawed.

By Erik Allgood

In response to smoking bans that are popping up nationwide, a smokeless electronic cigarette became popular last year. But the new product might be in trouble.

According to Jane Kenner, one of the product’s first purveyors in the U.S. through her Web site ecigsales.com, the electronic cigarettes were never approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Some FDA officials are using this as grounds to declare the product illegal.

In response to smoking bans that are popping up nationwide, a smokeless electronic cigarette became popular last year. But the new product might be in trouble.

According to Jane Kenner, one of the product’s first purveyors in the U.S. through her Web site ecigsales.com, the electronic cigarettes were never approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Some FDA officials are using this as grounds to declare the product illegal.

The electronic cigarettes are not sold in large enough quantities that the FDA considers them an attention-worthy problem, but now there is an unresolved gray area as to their legality that is affecting business, Kenner said.

“I am a supplier. Sometimes I will ship a certain number of these electronic cigarettes and the FDA official will send them through,” Kenner said. “Sometimes the FDA official will say ‘No, they are illegal. Send them back.'”

Kenner said the stigma now placed on electronic cigarettes only hurts the smaller retailers.

“The bigger companies are able to get special permission to ship their product,” Kenner said, “The smaller suppliers who are actually trying to supply a quality product for a fair price are the ones who get cracked over the head.”

Kenner said the market has crowded to the point that it is possible to get a decent product for a decent price.

Pat Callaghan, owner of Jon’s Pipe Shop in Champaign, said that his establishment does not sell electronic cigarettes. Although his business does not carry electronic cigarettes, he believes that they are useful because they allow people to smoke inside.

“Since there is no secondhand smoke, there is no reason that they can not smoke inside,” Callaghan said.

The electronic cigarettes are not universally loved.

“Personally, I am a cigar and pipe guy,” Callaghan said. “Electronic pipes and cigars exist but all you get with them is a little bit of tobacco flavor and vapor when what you want is the aroma and taste of all that smoke.”

Jillian Martin, sophomore in LAS, said she looked into electronic cigarettes, but has never been seriously interested.

“Half of the appeal of cigarettes is inhaling smoke into your lungs even if you know it is killing you,” Martin said. “Without that sensation it is not worth it.”

Kenner said that if electronic cigarettes ever become defined as illegal, she would leave the business.

“There is a reasonable profit to be made,” Kenner said, “But it is not worth running into legal problems with the FDA; I am too old.”

The problem does not hinge solely on the legality of the product but also with the product itself: it is not a perfect substitute for a cigarette.

“I tried to quit smoking once and it was not the nicotine that I missed as much as the act of smoking,” Martin said.