Congressional skeptics of the e-cigarette industry, which is largely unregulated, pounced on the survey data. Five Democratic senators, including Blumenthal, issued a joint press release at the time promising regulation of e-cigarettes. "This information is a call to action," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Blumenthal says he's concerned for adult users, too. "Many [e-cigarettes] involve carcinogens unknown or unappreciated by the smokers," he said.
But an analysis released in August by Drexel University researcher Igor Burstyn said the chemical composition of various e-cigarette liquids pose a negligible risk to second-hand smokers. Further, Burstyn wrote, "[t]here are no known toxicological synergies among compounds in the aerosol, and mixture of the contaminants does not pose a risk to health."
And a study published in March by the journal Tobacco Control looked at 12 brands of e-cigarettes and found they had far fewer toxins than conventional cigarettes. Large-scale, comprehensive studies on long-term health outcomes, however, haven't been performed yet.
Many e-cigarettes use a liquid that contains nicotine and propylene glycol, which a 2001 study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency found is not carcinogenic. Companies offer liquid with various nicotine concentrations and liquids are commercially available that have no nicotine at all.
Blumenthal is "talking without any data to support either of his requests for prohibition," Conley says.
"Blumenthal can't show that there are lots of kids stealing their parents' credit cards to buy electronic cigarettes online" and banning flavors might "make electronic cigarettes unpalatable for a lot of people," he added.
An online sales ban would force customers to "go to convenience stores and buy products from the larger companies who are making inferior products," Conley says.
He said less-drastic measures to ensure age compliance could include online third-party age confirmation or age confirmation upon delivery, similar to measures taken for online tobacco and alcohol sales.
Despite his tough talk, Blumenthal clarifies "I'm not trying to ban e-cigarettes." Rather, he insists, he's working to ensure – be it through legislation or mere encouragement of the FDA – that non-adults are not enticed to try them and that "marketing and promotion practices... be completely truthful and accurate in conveying the risk and dangers of their use."
"If there are e-cigarettes that have no carcinogens," he said, "the market will drive people to those products [and] to the extent regulation makes them safer and less addictive, it will strengthen the product's appeal, not diminish it."