While the cigarette industry has long been regulated, the burgeoning e-cigarette market has existed in a “wild west” state.
With few rules on advertising, production or sales, e-cigarette manufacturers, both large and small, have been able to operate and bring product to market as they see fit.
Things are changing. However, all of that is about to change – albeit slowly. Responding to increased pressure from health and trade associations, the FDA released rules this spring that would give the federal government authority over e-cigarettes, as well as cigars, pipe tobacco and other products. The regulations could take up to three years to see the light of day, but on both sides of the fence it represents a step in the right direction. Health and children advocates have been concerned about the popularity of the products, and manufacturers of higher quality e-cigarette products and accessories would like to see professional standards in place.
The rules cover a wide variety of components of e-cigarette production and uses. However, some critics say that the rules don’t cover areas of concern – like flavored nicotine oil that could encourage kids and teens to try the products. Public health experts warn that flavors like bubble gum and grape could lure kids into using the products. There’s also a lack of restriction on marketing of e-cigarettes, like their traditional counterparts. While regular cigarettes can’t be advertised on TV, e-cigarettes currently can and there are no plans of changing that any time soon.
Establishing guidelines. Still, the FDA says that these new rules were the first major step toward asserting authority and establishing guidelines for the industry. Eventually, they plan on regulating flavors and other aspects of e-cigarettes but it will require new federal rules for coverage. For example, in order to restrict the production of nicotine flavors, the agency would need to prove scientifically that the flavors create a health risk for children.
Similarly, marketing rules pose a problem and spur waves of resistance from the industry. Past attempts to impose graphic warning labels on cigarette packaging has been met with court battles where manufacturers claim that the labels violated their First Amendment free speech rights. The FDA’s initial report skips marketing rules for that very reason. Experts say they would rather see small steps toward improving previous legislation than sweeping rulings that would keep manufacturers and the agency in court for years.
The previous 2009 tobacco control law covered a comprehensive amount of products and situations, but missed out on e-cigarette regulation. The new form of tobacco delivery wasn’t as popular at the time. Now the game has changed, with the three major producers entering the field and joining over 200 smaller manufacturers.
The health risks of e-cigarettes. Health experts disagree over the role that e-cigarettes play, and their health risks. The nicotine oil that is used in many products is derived from tobacco – but some health experts argue that the devices offer the first real alternative to smoking. With less smoke and additives, these experts claim that e-cigarettes could actually save lives. However, others are much more cautious and warn that the gadgetry and flavors of tobacco could be tempting to children and could enable adults who should quit smoking to begin with.
Preventing health claims and more. The new rules would prevent e-cigarette companies from claiming that their products are less harmful than real cigarettes – however, they can submit scientific information for their particular brand of product and receive approval from the FDA. Even if a company did not want to claim health benefits, it would still need to apply for approval under the new rules. It could take up to two years for these new rules to go into effect, so companies can continue to keep products on the market in the meantime. Eventually, there would be stricter FDA standards for manufacturing similar to the drug companies and food companies that the agency regulates.
While for some the rules don’t do enough, others think that the FDA is taking the right steps. If regulatory bars are set too high, then smaller e-cigarette producers might be forced out of the market, which might leave a monopoly for major manufacturers Lorillard, R.J. Reynolds and Altria.