There is trouble in the land of the free. The vaping industry has been shell-shocked by division and controversy in wake of the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA‘s) publication of their proposed e-cigarette regulations. First introduced last year, the proposed regulations have been met with opposition from American vapers and producers, and this opposition is only increasing and intensifying as the proposals move closer to becoming set in stone as legislation.
Commissioner of the FDA Dr Margaret Hamburg has commented that “companies can do whatever they want,” and she has likened the vaping industry to the Wild West. It is true that the vaping industry has been one of the most lucrative emerging industries in recent years, and it continues to have its share of unethical manufacturers who can exploit their unregulated business status. There is an overwhelming need for further research and in-depth investigation to really legitimize the marketing campaigns that advertise the comparable safety of their products, and this has been a key factor in the growing demand for regulation of the industry.
In 2003, UAB Professor Brad Rodu claimed that using an e-cigarette appeared to be “vastly safer” than smoking tobacco, and this is a view that is still held widely held by consumers. Indeed, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the apparent health benefits of choosing an e-cigarette over tobacco. However, despite this public perception and the weighty claims found within many vaping marketing campaigns, the long term health effects of vaping remain relatively unknown and regulation should encourage and accelerate the rate of research.
There is an undeniable need for regulation of the industry, and indeed in recent years, vaping regulation has been called for by the NHS, the World Health Organization and consumers alike. For a British vaper, all the tension surrounding the regulations might seem a little confusing. In effect, regulation should stabilize this turbulent industry and ensure that producers adhere to certain standards of quality and customer care…. right? Those in the UK may be wandering – why the opposition?
Well, it seems that the root of the division lies in the root of all evil – money. While much of the FDA’s draft reads sensibly enough, (such as the enforcement of child resistant packaging, labeling requirements and age restrictions,) elements of the proposals have been viciously opposed by anti-tobacco lobbysits, who claim that the regulations are politically and financially motivated and designed to generate profits for tobacco bosses. American Vaping Association Chairman George Conley is one such lobbyist. Conley has expressed an intense opposition to the draft, stating that “vendors and vapers should vehemently OPPOSE these regulations, as they will work to the benefit of large tobacco and e-cigarette companies.”
The imposition of a sumptuary sin tax on vape products would place e-cigarettes and vaporizers in the same costly tax bracket as luxury items like alcohol and tobacco, and there are already 8 states pushing for a sin tax imposition. CASAA have expressed complete intolerance to the sin tax proposal, and will approach the rest of the draft “with caution.” As well as raising the cost of e-cigarettes, a sin tax could effect vaping culture by taking the focus away from vaping as a smoking alternative / smoking cessation tool and re-appropriating e-cigarettes as a vice to be abused, thus deterring tobacco smokers from making the jump. The most controversial element of the FDA’s draft has been the proposed application tax that new or existing manufacturers must pay for their product to meet FDA approval, an expensive cost for a lengthy process that may not even result in success.
Critics of the draft have cited the costly approval application tax and associated grandfather date scheme (which would essentially ban any unapproved product from the market produced post 2007,) as obstacles that will put small manufacturers and business owners in jeopardy, shifting the financial balance over to top heavy tobacco companies and large conglomerate e-cig brands. Members of the House of Representatives have put forward a plea to extend the grandfather date until the day that the legislation is actually put in place, (as in, change the grandfather date to any unapproved product post 2015 or 2016.) The petition plea can be supported here.
Bill Godshall of Smokefree Pennsylvania predicted that the regulations would have an unparalleled effect on the industry and give rise to a back market, and “would reduce the number of legal e-cig manufacturers from more than a thousand to less than a half dozen.” CASAA have identified problems with the implementation of federal legislation between states, asserting that manufacturers who operate at a national level could have their business reduced or eliminated completely due to getting caught in a dangerous “patchwork” system of legislation from state to state.
So, what does this mean for Sparks ecigs customers and the discerning British vaper? While it may be troubling for vapers and manufacturers in the UK to witness the current situation in America, the legislative structure of the UK ensures that the cross federal minefield “patchwork” system (as predicted by CASAA) is unlikely to exist outside of the United States, and would not necessarily pose a threat to manufacturers should similar legislation be put into place in Britain. Nevertheless, it is disheartening to see such a vibrant and accessible industry repressed in such a way.
By outlawing manufacturers and banning established products, the FDA’s regulations could well give rise to a black market and push vaping back into the fringe, as well as alienating the consumer. The UK market may soon be in for the same sort of legislation, so it will be interesting to observe how the situation in America plays out throughout the year.