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Federal Trade Commission Hoping to Put E-Cig Makers Under Microscope

The U. S. Federal Trade Commission is seeking public comment regarding its proposed review of how e-cigarettes are sold and advertised in the U.S.

The commission this week said it is seeking government permission to reach out to e-cigarettes makers and collect information about their sales, marketing activities and expenditures. The commission, which works to protect consumers from fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices, hopes to be given a three-year window to collect the data.

Electronic cigarettes have in recent months been at the center of much debate. While studies have shown them to be safer than cigarettes and useful in helping those who smoke traditional cigarettes quit, many communities are banning their public use outright due to health concerns.

As part of preparing for the study, the Federal Trade Commission hopes to get public input on the following topics:

- Whether there is a need for the study and the practical use of the information collected. 

- Ways to enhance the quality of the information collected and to minimize the burden of that collection.

- Whether the commission should seek to collect data according to: 1) the various types of products sold and given away by industry members; 2) the various flavors and nicotine strengths of those sales and giveaways; 3) the various sizes and liquid capacities of disposable e-cigarettes, cartridges and e-liquids sold and given away; and 4) whether the company sells directly to consumers or to wholesalers and distributors.

- Whether industry members can provide data that distinguishes between, among other things: 1) direct sales to consumers (e.g., online sales) and sales to retailers and distributors; 2) sales and giveaways of disposable e-cigarettes and sales and giveaways of refillable e-cigarettes; and 3) the various combinations of sizes, flavors and nicotine contents of their e-cigarettes, refill cartridges and e-liquids.

- Whether the commission should seek data on a state-by-state basis.

Members of the public can share their opinions on the above topics by clicking HERE.

If the study is granted government clearance and funding to proceed, the Federal Trade Commission will seek information from five large and 10 smaller e-cig companies.

Typically, e-cigs are a metal tube that is filled with a liquid that contains nicotine and/or flavoring such as cherry, coffee, vanilla, etc. In many cases, they are made to look similar to regular cigarettes, but also are designed with a look similar to a ballpoint pen. When the user “puffs” on the device, a battery heats the liquid and emits a vapor mist that the user inhales. The experience is much like inhaling from a traditional cigarette, but without the toxic, stinky smoke from burning tobacco.

A design for smokeless cigarettes without tobacco was first patented in 1965. Back then, interest was low and it took nearly 40 years for the idea to gain market success. The current wave of e-cigs became popular after a Chinese pharmacist in 2004 released an updated version. Now there are disposable versions and ones that can be refilled for repeated use.

Instead of tobacco – which is a harmful carcinogen – e-cigarettes typically have three main ingredients. These are nicotine, a flavoring and propylene glycol. The latter is a syrupy synthetic liquid. According to the Food and Drug Administration, propylene glycol – which is also found in salad dressings, soda, shampoos and more – is “generally recognized as safe” and has been for more than 20 years.

In recent years, sales of the devices have grown rapidly, in part due to beliefs that they are safer the tobacco cigarettes and do not create dangerous, second-hand smoke.