A better e-cigarette is coming but you’ll need a prescription

Enjoy responsibly, or not at all.
Enjoy responsibly, or not at all.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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A new company is trying to invent the safest, most sophisticated electronic cigarette on the market. But unless you’re trying to quit smoking, the firm’s founder says the product isn’t for you: It’s intended to be a new kind of inhaler that delivers a precise, physician-approved dose of nicotine to help smokers break their tobacco habit.

Nathan Terry, a mechanical engineer, was shocked the first time he cracked open the casing of a typical electronic smoking device, Reuters reports. While electronic cigarettes and vaporizers are meant to be safer alternatives to tobacco products, many devices are poorly made: Cheap heat sources are often nestled close to metal and plastic components and adhesives, which means that the devices can send toxic fumes and particles into users’ lungs.

Terry’s response to the e-cigarettes he first examined was to start Thermo-Essence Technologies. The firm has since sold as many as 30,000 e-cigarettes and each of its three models, Terry told Reuters, was made under the assumption that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would soon release stringent regulations for the products. The FDA still hasn’t started to police e-cigarette design, but Terry is now selling his e-cigarette company to work on a medical-grade version.

His hope is that his next inhaler will be approved by the FDA as a medical device to help people quit smoking. To do that, it would have to prove that it’s safe and effective as a smoking cessation tool, as have current options such as nicotine patches and gum.

Some proponents of e-cigarettes argue that, when made to a high manufacturing standard, all e-cigs are good for quitting smoking, and safe to use.

The FDA seems to disagree, and has announced plans to regulate electronic cigarettes as it does other tobacco products—requiring various health warnings and prohibiting sales to minors. Indeed, since e-cigarettes can also hook non-smokers, they would seem to be un-convincing as health and wellness products.

Terry says his device will dispense carefully sized, physician-prescribed doses of nicotine each day, send usage data to prescribing doctors, and require interaction with physicians. But with no definitive data on the safety of inhaling the nicotine vapor that e-cigarettes produce, it’s hard to know if even the well-engineered product that Terry wants to build will actually work safely as a quitting tool.