Consumers were quick to understand and embrace the advantages of electronic cigarettes. The non-combustible, tobacco-free products are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution and create an inhalable vapor. They generate no harmful second-hand smoke and do not soil hair and clothes with noxious cigarette odors. More important, research is showing that e-cigarettes are the most effective method of helping smokers quit the tobacco habit.
In short, E-cigarettes contribute directly to the Food and Drug Administration’s goal of ending smoking-related diseases and deaths. Unfortunately, new regulations proposed by the FDA would hand much of this market over to Big Tobacco, a late entrant to the e-cigarette business.
These products are typically sold online and in freestanding vapor stores. Customers can buy a range of e-cigarette products including those that have zero milligrams of nicotine. By contrast, the low-tech e-cigarettes sold by tobacco giants such as Altria’s MarkTen and R.J. Reynolds’ Vuse do not come with a nicotine-free option.
Big Tobacco was blindsided by the quick public uptake of e-cigarettes and scrambled to understand and counter the threat. Their products are far behind the game in innovation, so it should come as no surprise that they are content to see their competition squashed through federal regulation.
A key feature of the Tobacco Control Act of 2009 is an exhaustive – and expensive –number of hoops a new entrant into the tobacco market must jump through. It’s designed to keep new tobacco products from coming to market.
Altria, the largest tobacco company, supported the law because it raises near-impossible barriers to entry for tobacco competitors. If the FDA succeeds in classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products subject to the Tobacco Control Act (as it is now proposing), Big Tobacco would score another win. The reason: e-cigarettes would be burdened with the same regulations that apply to deadly combustible cigarettes. This is senseless and harmful for consumers.
E-cigarettes are the antithesis of cigarettes. Not only do they contain no tobacco, they help smokers quit smoking.
A 2014 study in England published in the medical journal Addiction surveyed 6,000 smokers who tried to quit in the prior year. The largest number of respondents who were able to quit – 20 percent – had done so using e-cigarettes, beating those who quit without help (15 percent) and those who used nicotine-replacement therapy such as gum or a patch (10 percent).
America’s independent e-cigarette manufacturers, represented by the American Vaping Association, do not oppose regulation. The e-cigarette industry supports smart, reasonable regulations, such as a ban on sales to minors. They also back legislation by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) that would require childproof packaging for liquids used in e-cigarettes.
But over-regulation is a bad idea for e-cigarettes as for any other product. Certainly something less rigorous is in order than regulations that are imposed on products like cigarettes that actually kill people.
If America’s independent e-cigarette manufacturers are regulated out of business, Big Tobacco will benefit and consumers will suffer. With no competition, Big Tobacco will have no incentive to innovate or offer greater choices to consumers. Small- and mid-sized family-owned e-cigarette companies will be forced to downsize or cease to exist.
And worst of all, smokers trying to kick the habit will have only one place left to turn for e-cigarettes – Big Tobacco.
Conley is president of the American Vaping Association which advocates for e-cigarettes.