by Klaus Kneale

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has caused a number of panics among electronic cigarette business owners and consumers with its mostly misdirected, misguided, and misleading remarks about how it intends to regulate the industry.  The most recent incident came from a Wall Street Journal report that the organization had said it would be considering a nationwide ban of online electronic cigarette sales.

Presumably, that announcement wasn’t supposed to happen until around October.  Nevertheless, it has consumers and business owners that rely on internet sales quite worried.

In the early 1980’s, the FDA caused similar hysteria when it began looking into the presence of caffeine in foods.  The review stood a good chance of resulting in hefty restrictions on caffeine.

In fact, there were groups arguing on one side that caffeine in large and constant amounts could be extremely harmful.  On the other side, was the argument that caffeine had been consumed (safely) for hundreds of years and that the FDA’s jurisdiction should fall on new substances rather than established ones.  Ultimately, caffeine was given “prior sanction” meaning it was beyond need for FDA approval.

Still, the FDA continues to look for new ways to exercise its power over caffeine.  Just this past May, the FDA announced that it would be looking into “new and easy sources” of caffeine.  This was largely in response to caffeine-containing gum, but it sounds eerily similar to FDA concern about “new and easy sources” of nicotine.

But this story does offer hope to the industry.  Beyond a ban on caffeinated alcoholic beverages (because the combination causes blackouts), caffeine has remained largely untouched.  Caffeine remains in many drinks, food products, and drugs.

Although the FDA started the hysteria over proposed restrictions on caffeine, it ultimately quietly chose to leave much of the industry alone once it became evident that the drug was not really harmful and people were willing to fight, yell, and even sue to keep their ability to purchase products with caffeine in them.

Nicotine is not that unlike caffeine (more on this can be found here).  It seems likely that as long as the community continues to make its voice heard and companies continue to support meaningful research into the products, the FDA may ultimately be forced to quietly sit aside and focus on more important issues.

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