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Are e-cigarettes really a 'safe alternative?' Law professor calls for more legal controls for e-cigs

September 30, 2014

E-cigarettes, which emit vaporized liquid nicotine and even come in different flavors, are often viewed as a “safe alternative,” but one legal expert at Loyola University New Orleans is not convinced. In fact, College of Law professor Karen Sokol, J.D., believes that this type of marketing of e-cigarettes should not be permitted at this point, especially since the full risks on human health have yet to be determined. Sokol argues that we shouldn't be examining whether e-cigarettes are “safe,” but rather whether they should even be viewed as a “safer alternative” to traditional cigarettes. Sokol’s findings on the issue will published later this year in the South Carolina Law Review.

In the article, “Tort as a Disrupter of Cultural Manipulation: Neuromarketing and the Dawn of the E-Cigarette,” Sokol argues that tort law has served a vital role in disrupting the manipulation of cultural cognition regarding risky products, including tobacco products. She further argues that this manipulation may be particularly dangerous now that many business interests are pursuing the possibility of “neuromarketing,” which aims to tap as directly as possible into the inner-workings of the human mind in order to sell a product. Tort law provides plaintiffs with a unique legal venue to “disrupt” such pervasive manipulation of cultural cognition regarding the nature of risky products, and it may be an important legal tool in controlling misleading marketing of e-cigarettes.

According to Sokol, determining how dangerous e-cigarettes are also can't proceed until major tobacco product manufacturers publically disclose all of the ingredients in the so-called “e-juice,” relevant research they have conducted on the physiological effects of these products, as well as allow independent governmental, public health and medical experts to evaluate this information and conduct independent research. Tort law may be a key part of this inquiry, as it was with traditional cigarettes.

“Although the Food and Drug Administration has begun the process of regulating e-cigarettes, this process will undoubtedly be a long one, and thus e-cigarettes are likely to remain entirely unregulated at the federal level for several years. In the meantime, it is up to local authorities to provide some legal controls through tort law as well as through legislation “banning the sale of these products to minors and their use indoors,” Sokol said.

Loyola is planning to implement a tobacco-free policy on campus in fall 2015. The policy will ban all tobacco products—including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and e-cigarettes—to create a healthier environment for the university community.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Sokol, contact James Shields in the Office of Public Affairs at 504-861-5888.

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