Dr. Vivek Murthy, the recently-confirmed US Surgeon General, stated Tuesday that public health officials are "in desperate need of clarity" on electronic cigarettes to help guide policies.

"There have been theories and ideas around the fact that e-cigarettes may be helpful from a harm reduction perspective in helping people who are already on cigarettes (that) have had trouble quitting actually get off cigarettes," Murthy said. "If the data indeed bears that out, then I think we should absolutely embrace that and use e-cigarettes in targeted ways."

However, Murthy said there are many unanswered questions about their health impacts -- specifically their contents -- and if they are ultimately a gateway to traditional smoking, especially considering the rapid growth in use of e-cigarettes among both adults and children.

"I'm concerned about e-cigarettes, and I think this is an area where we are in desperate need of clarity," Murthy said. "I think it's important for us to understand the impact, particularly on youth, before we allow the full-fledged spread of these e-cigarettes and then later have problems that we have to deal with."

Last April, the Food and Drug Administration proposed regulations for e-cigarettes, including banning sales to minors and requiring health warning labels, as well as approving “new” products. The agency has said its proposal sets a foundation for regulating the products, but the rules wouldn't immediately ban the wide array of flavors or styles of e-cigarettes or curb marketing on places like TV.

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