THE BLOG
08/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Small Good News: Bringing Big Tobacco To Its Battery-Powered Knees

In the name of transparency, yes, my late father lit one cigarette off the end of another from the time he was twelve until nine months before he died of lung cancer at sixty-five, so, no, I am not objective when it comes to tobacco.
On the other hand, the companies that push nicotine make it so easy for me to vent; over 40 years after the first health warnings, they're still looking for ways to build their customer base, still dismissing the latest research, still pursuing my lovely, clean-breathing daughter, all of her friends, and all of their younger siblings.
The latest gimmick is the electronic cigarette. Yes, the bipolar tobacco industry, which pretends it wants you to stop smoking even as it invents new ways to keep people hooked, has invented a plastic tube that looks like a cigarette, delivers nicotine like a cigarette, and runs on a battery--supposedly to keep the user from inhaling some less life-affirming ingredients. Companies with names like NJoy and Smoking Everywhere say that a customer gets water vapor, nicotine and propylene glycol, and not much else. Think of it as a kinder, gentler cigarette.
Even though the Food and Drug Administration found that some of the nineteen varieties of cartridges it analyzed happened also to hold nitrosamines, which cause cancer.
Even though one cartridge contained diethlyene glycol, an ingredient found in your car's anti-freeze.
Even though the darned things are produced in, yep, China, home of lead-paint toys and other examples of questionable quality control.
Even though flavored varieties include cherry and bubblegum, and would you like to guess what age group the marketing gurus are pursuing with those?
The glimmer of hope, here, is that the FDA has decided that these little gizmos qualify as drug delivery devices, and as such should not be allowed in the U.S. The dark side is that our beloved internet knows no physical boundaries, so products we turn away at our physical borders still show up online, and then in our mailboxes. And of course there's a tussle brewing over whether seizures are even legal, so in the meantime the techno-smokes continue to show up in malls, where your kids sometimes hang out with money in their pockets and no parental supervision.
The cigarette industry people say what they've been saying as long as there's been negative research about smoking: The studies are too small to be meaningful, and they would never, ever go after the kid market. The FDA, clearly not buying, has not yet said whether it intends to ban or seize more shipments, but one can always hope.
Or we can get really noisy and complain, because right now www.fda.gov wants to know what we think about tobacco regulations; there's a link right on the home page so that you can make your voice heard. Don't depend on your addicted friends to say, Wow, not nerdy at all, a little plastic faux ciggie with which I can wean myself from some if not all of the toxic aspects of my habit. Give them a hand. Weigh in. Complain about smokes in whatever form troubles you the most, and help this country develop a real drug policy.
As I wrote that, I thought of all the people who are going to say I'm out of line - the ones who protest when apartment buildings extend the smokeless ban to private residences as well as public spaces, or cities revoke smoking privileges in bars and even outdoor dining areas. What can I say? I have no sympathy for an industry that exists primarily because it's wealthy enough to take on and trounce all comers. Forget my dad, though I find that impossible to do, even decades after the fact: There's a digital tote board in west Los Angeles that logs tobacco-related deaths each year, and it rolls up to six figures with lightning speed.
You're a web fan or you wouldn't be reading this: Go make some good news for yourself; log on to the FDA site and tell them just how you feel about a business that kills not only its customers but unlucky second-handers who spend too much time with those customers. They've asked for our input. Let's make sure they hear us good and loud.

Visit www.karenstabiner.com or write to Karen at guestbook@karenstabiner.com.