FDA and the Marketing of E-Cigarettes
As lawmakers pressure the US Food and Drug Administration to clamp down on the marketing of e-cigarettes, manufacturers and distributors alike are wondering what it will do to their $1.5 billion industry.
“We do anticipate becoming a regulated industry, so it is very possible the way in which we advertise will change,” said Andries Verleur, co-founder of e-cigarette maker VMR Products.
A new industry fights for its say
While stricter standards and regulations are expected, not all those involved in this industry are standing by as health officials and politicians hammer them in the press. Groups like the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, SFATA, have taken the offensive and are warning lawmakers that lumping them together with the tobacco industry, which many are pushing for, would be a mistake.
“We would really like to set up a separate framework for regulation. It wouldn’t have the burdensome compliance expenses. The reporting expenses under the Tobacco Control Act are onerous,” said Cynthia Cabrera, SFATA’s executive director. “No one is saying that there shouldn’t be regulation but that there should be appropriate regulation for this product.”
Historically, the tobacco industry has been accused of targeting young people with campaigns using Joe Camel, a cartoon character, and popular actors who appeal to the younger generation. This strategy has led to an almost complete ban on any type of marketing or advertising of these products.
This loss of marketing avenues, complemented by years of negative campaigns, have hurt tobacco sales in the US; and many believe that big tobacco is behind the push to constrain e-cigarettes with the same regulations.
“Big tobacco companies are encouraging the federal government to exert their regulatory authority that would effectively wipe out its competition. It seems a little like the government would be leveling the market for them,” Cabrera said.
Stark contrasts between the two
To keep themselves from being viewed in the same negative light that traditional tobacco cigarettes are, the e-cigarette industry is quick to point out that there is no smoke involved with their product. Users inhale a vapor rather than smoke produced from burning tobacco, and some of their products don’t even contain the addictive nicotine.
Studies conducted outside the industry also make claims that the electronic version doesn’t pose the same risks that traditional cigarettes do. One study conducted by Drexel University’s Dept. of Environmental and Occupational Health revealed that the level of contaminants found in e-cigarettes are insignificant and far below levels that would pose any health risk to users or bystanders.
Two separate studies conducted in Greece found that there are significant differences in how the body reacts to the two products. In one, it was found that tobacco users suffered significant heart dysfunction after using tobacco products, but e-cigarette users were found to experience only slight increases in blood pressure.
The second study reported that the electronic versions had little impact on lung function, which is a long step away from traditional cigarettes that are the leading cause of lung disease.
But public health officials insist that more evidence that these products are safer than tobacco is needed, despite the number of studies and members of the scientific community that back this claim.
Officials remain unconvinced
Until they see more, some public officials believe that e-cigarettes should have the same marketing and advertising restrictions, and regulations, to keep these products from being offered to children or as a safe alternative.
“We need FDA oversight of these products urgently,” said Erika Sward, assistant vice president of national advocacy for the American Lung Association. “From a public health perspective, they need to prove that these products are not detrimental to public health and they haven’t done that.”
Yet these misunderstandings, according to SFATA, could lead to regulations that would devastate this industry in its infancy.