E-cigarettes provide nicotine without tobacco.

E-cigarettes provide nicotine without tobacco. (Joe Radele / Getty Images / October 24, 2013)

They have the shape, feel and nicotine of tobacco cigarettes, but e-cigarettes should not be regulated like tobacco products, makers of the popular new product say.

The Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Assn., an industry group, is lobbying to avoid Food and Drug Administration regulation under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

"This is a critical time for ... the e-cig industry at large," said Cynthia Cabrera, the trade group's executive director. "While our industry understands reasonable and appropriate regulation is needed, it is vital our young industry not be grouped with combustible cigarettes as federal guidelines are developed for these products. Excessive regulation could limit adult access to e-cigs and stifle growth and innovation in the segment."

Members of the trade organization said they are traveling to Washington on Nov. 4 to urge members of Congress to not classify the devices as tobacco products.

Last month, attorneys general from 40 states urged the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, noting the cigarette alternatives contain highly addictive nicotine and, unlike cigarettes, can be advertised and sold to children.

"People, especially kids, are being led to believe that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative, but they are highly addictive and can deliver strong doses of nicotine," Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley said. "We urge the FDA to act quickly to ensure that these products are regulated to protect the public, and are no longer advertised or sold to youth."

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E-cigarettes are plastic or metal devices, shaped like oversized cigarettes, that use batteries to heat nicotine oil and create a vapor that users inhale. They provide nicotine without inhaling the smoke of burning tobacco. 

The products have become so popular that some tobacco companies have been acquiring e-cigarette manufacturers as a way of getting into the business.

The Centers for Disease Control reported recently that e-cigarette use by middle and high school students doubled from 2011 to 2012. The trade group has scoffed at that report, noting that it was based on the number of students who tried the product, not those that regularly used them.

Further, the group said, studies have found that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes, the health risks of which are widely known. 

"There is no evidence of which we are aware which would suggest that the risk/safety profile of e-cigarettes is in any way comparable to that of tobacco products," Todd A. Harrison, an attorney for the trade group, said in an Oct. 17 letter to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

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