‘Not rocket science’: FDA official says further studies needed to prove e-cigarettes safer than smoking

Published September 11, 2019, 5:45 PM

by Dhel Nazario, Jeffrey G. Damicog, and Rey G. Panaligan

By Analou De Vera

An official of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday said that further studies are needed to determine if electronic cigarettes are indeed safer than smoking.

A man puffs an electronic cigarette or E-Cigarette at a street in Quezon City, July 14, 2017. (Mark Balmores / MANILA BULLETIN)
A man puffs an electronic cigarette or e-cigarette at a street in Quezon City (Mark Balmores / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

There is “still very little” long-term safety data on electronic cigarettes, said Dr. Anton Javier, project manager of Product Research and Standards Development Division of the FDA.

“The main point of contention here surround in the safety of electronic cigarettes. When we try to look at periodical journals…we can see that a lot of evidence is pointing in uncertainty about the safety profiles of electronic cigarettes,” said Javier during a media forum in Malate, Manila.

“As far as the opinion of the Department of Health (DOH)… what we are seeing, there is still no evidence of safety…What we have are some very alarming initial findings and some very compelling position papers from the various medical societies,” he added.

Javier said that the side effects of electronic cigarettes will not immediately be apparent.

“So because of this latency, it is very difficult to tell the safety of electronic cigarettes as of the moment,” he added.

The FDA official said that the issue on the use of electronic cigarettes should be approached with “due precaution.”

“We cannot say outright that the product is safe because it is less smoke. We have to wait for the chemical analysis. We don’t just say that it is good for harm reduction. We have to prove if it’s really less harmful. Before we say that it is good for public health, we [must] look at it from all dimensions,” he said.

“It’s not rocket science. It is better if [we] are careful and there were no problems; than if there were problems that we could not see and we were not careful with policy development,” he added.

Meanwhile, harm reduction expert Dr. Tikki Pang believed that electronic cigarettes are “less harmful and it helps people.”

“The debate is sometimes becoming a bit one-sided. What I would like to see in the future is equal dialogue or inclusive dialogue,” he said.

“My view is that the conversations cannot just be between scientists, regulators, and policymakers in DOH and FDA, it has to involve a much bigger group of people who are stakeholders. We have to be more inclusive, we have to be more collaborative,” he added.

“Don’t forget, for example, the industry, the people who make these devices, they need to be part of the conversation. Most importantly, the people most affected–the smokers. They have to be part of this conversation,” he furthered.