Fighting Fear with Science

As proposed bans and restrictions circulate, e-cig companies work toward longevity.

By
Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor

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Two big pieces of e-cig news emerged Aug. 22.

First was the announcement that ITG was acquiring the assets of Chinese company Dragonite International, holder of the original e-cig patent, including a portfolio of 140 registered, worldwide patents for the utility and design of e-cigarettes. The announcement brought the world’s fourth largest tobacco company by market share into the e-cigarette arena. Next, The Wall Street Journal reported that new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations slated for an October release may include a ban on online sales of e-cigarettes. (The agency refuted this claim the next day.)

Steady news flashes are becoming the norm in today’s world of electronic cigarettes and, unfortunately, many relate to the new trend of proposed bans popping up at local, state and national levels across the country.

The e-cig story is starting to read like a sequel to “Smoke Out Cigs” as critics point their pistols at those who “vape” and the companies that make and sell the devices. The activity, understandably, has put the industry on the defense and made it somewhat vulnerable because electronic cigarettes are not only a new concept for this country, but also one that is not well understood by many who sell and distribute them.

Some industry veterans predict that the best way to fight back is to have a more solid grasp of the science behind e-cig technology. And if those in favor of e-cig longevity are paying attention, that’s also what regulators are seeking. Mitch Zeller, the new director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, has vocalized the need for scientific evidence along with public health considerations to guide deeming regulations for electronic cigarettes.

Bill Bartkowski, president of Minneapolis-based VapAria, says regulators seem most concerned with how vaping is absorbed by the body and the effect it has on users. These many unknowns about the electronic-cigarette process are a primary reason they take more conservative positions on e-cigs.

“Great concern remains about how much nicotine a user inhales, as well as the source of some of the other chemicals that show up in the vapor,” Bartkowski says. “If we can produce a product capable of measuring and monitoring the amount of nicotine on a per-puff basis, controlling the size of the molecule and literally showing where it is being absorbed by the user, that will benefit the regulatory process and answer their questions.”

Richard Smith, spokesperson for Reynolds American Inc., agrees, to an extent. “I wouldn’t begin to speculate on what may or may not happen with bans of vapor products in various locations,” he says, “but I can say that we believe the degree of regulation of tobacco products should be based on the comparative risks of tobacco and nicotine products and their respective product categories—and that information should be based on sound science.”

Introduced to the United States only about six years ago, the e-cig category got an initial boost from a slew of online sellers eager to jump on the e-cig bandwagon—regardless of lack of experience or knowledge about the product or technology. But as the electronic devices come under increased scrutiny, Bartkowski predicts that those who truly understand the essence of e-cigs will rise to the top as key players.

Where We Are

The category has been progressing well with big tobacco companies coming on board, along with new flavor and packaging innovations.

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