The American Heart Association released its first detailed policy report Sunday on the increasingly popular e-cigarettes, which heat up liquid that contains nicotine and vaporizes it. The report recommends officially categorizing it as a tobacco product.
Kurt Ribisl, a health behavior professor in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, served on the team that helped compile the report.
Assistant State & National Editor Hayley Fowler sat down with Ribisl to discuss his role on the team and the importance of e-cigarette regulation.
THE DAILY TAR HEEL: Can you summarize the results of the policy report?
KURT RIBISL: The early studies suggest that e-cigarettes have much lower amounts of most of the harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke. There’s a difference between being safer and being less dangerous.
However, there is enough concern that the products should be banned indoors, in any place that smoking is banned. You shouldn’t be able to fly on an airplane and take out an e-cigarette; you shouldn’t be able to smoke at the workplace or in restaurants.
One reason is you are also exposing people to second-hand nicotine. Right now, there is very little regulatory oversight over e-cigarettes, which is something that really needs to change.
We also recommended that the products be taxed ... at a high enough level to discourage youth from using them. But also, we mentioned the possibility that e-cigarettes should not be taxed at a rate equivalent to cigarettes. Just the idea of simply the tiered regulatory approach is particularly novel in these recommendations.
We are the Wild West right now in terms of regulation of e-cigarettes.
DTH: How did you become part of the team that produced this study?
KR: They’ve had a really rapid rise in their use, and the American Heart Association wanted to assemble a group of experts because they’re getting a lot of questions at the local and state level from their affiliates about how you regulate e-cigarettes.
To my knowledge, one of the things that’s notable about this project is that it’s the first time a national organization has assembled a group of experts to make recommendations on local and state regulations of e-cigarettes.
DTH: What was the process for compiling this report?
KR: We weren’t doing new empirical studies or data collection — we were simply aggregating, or doing a review, of the public studies.
W e talked amongst our group about the recommendations we were going to make, and they were put through a series of reviews by the American Heart Association — a little more review and scrutiny than normal, which is, I think, appropriate given the high stakes that are involved in this type of product.
DTH: When did e-cigarettes start to become a recognized presence in the state?
KR: It’s really around 2010. They were patented in China, and they entered the marketplace in 2003 in China. They made a bigger impact in U.S. markets in around 2009-10, when they started becoming available.
Now there are 466 brands and 7,764 unique flavors — if you go to The Vapor Girl shop, they sell cream of mushroom soup, Gatorade, apple pie: all kinds of flavors.