E-cigarettes are booming, but what are they? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is devising new regulations that will classify electronic cigarettes as tobacco products. The FDA has suggested that it may require e-cigarette manufacturers to complete an arduous paperwork process before it will consider a product for approval. All consumer products are regulated, and e-cigarettes should not be an exception. But the regulation of e-cigarettes needs to be proportionate and not discriminatory, especially considering that many experts report they are a safer alternative to regular cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes, or vapor products, are meant to mirror the experience of smoking. Such products use battery power to heat-liquid nicotine, which releases a virtually odorless vapor. Although the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are unknown, they are a viable substitute for many smokers who have trouble quitting. The e-cigarette industry is still very small, but is proving to be increasingly innovative and influential.
Many industry watchers believe that Big Tobacco companies are the only players that have the financial resources to meet the proposed regulations, which could require up to 5,000 hours per application. Every product combination would also require its own application. According to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, only 25 of the thousands of products currently available would eventually be licensed.
The large tobacco companies can then buy the small e-cigarette manufacturers that are unable to meet the FDA’s requirements. Such a monopoly would not limit consumption. Big Tobacco will undergo its own transition to e-cigarettes without competition, significant innovation, or product testing. Ironically, the FDA could liberate Big Tobacco from competition and strengthen its business.
The FDA regulation could give Big Tobacco the control over the only product capable of disrupting the business of selling smoking tobacco. Unfortunately, the Tobacco industry has proven that the health interests of the public are not its paramount concern. The World Health Organization has judged that “effective tobacco control and the commercial success of the tobacco industry are fundamentally incompatible … accordingly, the tobacco industry can be expected to seek to avoid, prevent, weaken and delay effective policies and programs, which are against its interests.”
The regulation of electronic cigarettes will also affect drug and public health policies. A group of 53 leading scientists warned the World Health Organization not to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products, arguing that doing so would jeopardize a major opportunity to slash disease and deaths caused by smoking.
The hundreds of alternative e-cigarette providers are pivotal in the development of the next-generation of vapor products. Unlike in gas stations, pharmacies and large grocery stores, the growing sales at vape stores and online websites are not being tracked because point-of-sale data is not being collected.
The FDA cannot afford to deny e-cigarettes a chance to transform the industry. Without smoking or using vapor products I can see the potential for these innovative new companies to end smoking and stimulate innovation. If we condemn every product until it is proven safe, we have chosen to ignore that e-cigarettes are designed to replace one of the most dangerous consumer products ever invented.