Puffing on antifreeze a poor alternative to cigarettes

If you’re looking for a safe alternative to smoking, you’d be wise to skip the electronic cigarette – unless inhaling a toxic, bubble gum-flavored component of antifreeze sounds yummy.

The Food and Drug Administration recently ran preliminary tests on two brands of battery-powered, cigarette-shaped devices billed as safe alternatives to tobacco. The devices heat up a liquid containing nicotine and produce a vapor that can be drawn directly into the lungs. Among other things, scientists found forms of nitrosamine, a carcinogen common in real cigarettes.

The tests also turned up diethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze, in some samples. It’s the same chemical involved in deaths and illnesses around the world in 2007; unscrupulous toothpaste manufacturers in China used it as a cheap substitute for the thickening agent glycerine.

The Electronic Cigarette Association, a trade group representing manufacturers, says the FDA’s tests of devices marketed by Arizona-based NJoy and Florida-based Smoking Everywhere were too limited to reach “any valid and reliable conclusions.”

But, tellingly, the industry is reluctant to submit its products for safety approval, arguing that the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction.

Many of the devices are made in China, where they’re popular. But the FDA reports that there’s little quality control in the manufacturing – which isn’t surprising, given the multitude of problems with toys, pet food and other products imported from China.

Numerous U.S. health groups have issued warnings against e-cigarettes. The American Academy of Pediatrics has condemned the production of e-cigarettes flavored to taste like bubble gum, chocolate and various fruits – a move they say is intended to lure children and teens.

FDA officials, who contend e-cigarettes fall under their jurisdiction as drug-delivery devices, say they’re contemplating further action against manufacturers. Some members of Congress are calling for a ban.

Whether it’s possible to produce a safe e-cigarette remains an open question. But the FDA’s recent tests indicate there are dangerous versions on the market. They, at the very least, should be yanked from store shelves.

© Hamptonroads