Electronic cigarette companies and electronic cigarette users were astounded by a French court ruling earlier this week which effectively classified electronic cigarettes as tobacco products. The situation in France is very different to that in other European countries because the tobacco cigarette industry is effectively a state monopoly with the government working in tandem with tobacco companies. This obviously creates a significant tax income stream for the French government and has led to accusations of bias and collusion.
While the electronic cigarette industry has received a number of setbacks over the years, it is as strong today as it ever has been with worldwide electronic cigarette sales expected to hit $3.5 billion in 2013. Indeed the French market has increased dramatically from €40 million last year to around €100 million this year.
Will the FDA take note?
The simple fact is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US is a law unto itself and while it will take note of the French court ruling it is unlikely to have any major impact. The FDA has been looking into the electronic cigarette industry for two years and while the much awaited report was expected by the end of 2013, this timetable seems to have slipped to early 2014.
It is widely known that the FDA has in the past attempted to ban electronic cigarettes, losing a high-profile court case, although quite what the administration has in mind today remains to be seen. The market in America is expected to hit around $1 billion in 2013 with the potential to double in the short to medium term. This is now more than a niche market, with regulators relatively uninterested when it was fairly small, and regulators around the world are coming under intense pressure from tobacco companies and pharmaceutical groups.
There are many degrees of expectation with regards to the future stance of the FDA with some believing there will be relatively little change to the current regulatory regime while others believe that electronic cigarettes will be reclassified as medical devices or tobacco products. The reality is that the future stance of the FDA is likely to be somewhere between these two extremes and, in direct comparison to what you may read in the worldwide media, electronic cigarette manufacturers and retailers have no issue with greater transparency going forward.
Why have regulators only now woken up to the challenges of the electronic cigarette industry?
The simple fact is, as we touched on above, when the electronic cigarette market was relatively small and no challenge to their larger tobacco counterparts, it seems there was little interest from regulators around the world. Now that the industry has grown into a $3.5 billion worldwide market, with some optimists suggesting it could overshadow the tobacco cigarette industry within 20 years, various groups with various agendas have now stepped forward.
If you ask any electronic cigarette manufacturer or retailer about their stance on further regulation and clinical trials, the more responsible ones have no issues. The fact is that the voice of electronic cigarette manufacturers, retailers and users has until now been drowned out by their larger and more financially influential competitors. However, the recent secretive moves by the European Commission to reverse an earlier European Parliament ruling and the French court decisions has led to uproar within the electronic cigarette industry.
Electronic cigarette supporters are now using social media networks to get their message across, to get their voices heard and to publicize what they believe to be undemocratic moves by the French court and the European Commission. If those opposed to electronic cigarettes thought recent moves would dampen the spirits of electronic cigarette supporters they will be sadly mistaken. It seems that the stage is now set for a battle royal!