The first statements about safety concerns of electronic cigarettes were issued by the FDA in a way that suggested a government agency bowing to pressure exerted by big tobacco. For the FDA to mention banning a product before testing had been conducted is not the way that government agency usually conducts its business.
The danger of using tobacco has been scientifically documented for more than forty years. That is when warnings first appeared on cigarette packs advising users of the danger posed by smoking cigarettes. The warning language used in the U.S. is some of the weakest required in the world and only last year did the FDA decide to begin regulating tobacco products. Regulations applied to a single industry have the effect of making it harder for competitors to gain a foothold in the market. For this reason alone tobacco companies claimed to welcome new oversight by the FDA.
After hinting about banning electronic cigarettes several times, the FDA established a ban on e-cigarettes and electronic smoking supplies imported from China. The reasons offered by the FDA for this ban seemed to vary but then coalesced into a “fear” that e-liquids used to refill electronic cigarettes would lure underage people into smoking and addict them to nicotine.
The ban ended up in federal court on January 15, 2010 where a federal judge ruled the FDA could not ban the importation of electronic cigarettes. The judge strongly criticized the federal agency for aggressive tactics that seemed aimed at designating a particular recreational product as a drug or device in an attempt to make the product unavailable to the public.
Referring to the new tobacco division created within the FDA to regulate tobacco companies, the court opined the same regulations could be applied to electronic cigarettes. Regulation of marketing claims and contents of products should be applied to both versions of smoking products according to the court ruling.
The FDA quickly released a statement opposing the court’s view and expressing concerns over health issues that might be posed by e-cigarettes. Critics have pointed out the tendency of the FDA to change focus from dangers of youthful smoking to general health concerns when it suits the agency. If the FDA appeals the court decision it will have full backing of tobacco manufacturers who would love nothing more than to see new competition banned.
One great outcome for tobacco companies would be allowing the FDA to set separate standards and restrictions for e-cigarettes. This would significantly increase the cost of buying e-cigs and refill supplies. Currently, tobacco products can’t compete in price with alternative electronic products.
Pharmaceutical companies, big tobacco and the FDA have a relationship that calls for further scrutiny after this court decision. Tobacco provides billions of dollars to government coffers from taxes at federal and state levels. The regulations attempted by the FDA seem clearly designed to protect the market share of big tobacco. Would tobacco companies be in favor of electronic cigarettes if they have been involved in offering such a product as an alternative to their tobacco? In the confusion caused by the defeat suffered in the tobacco trials of the late 90s, it’s likely big tobacco did not realize the competition electronic cigarettes would present.
Why has a ban on the use of tobacco never been a topic of conversation within the FDA? Why would a government agency designated to determine the safety of products sold to the public focus on attempts to ban a product before conducting scientific research? Where are plans for testing to provide facts about the safety of electronic cigarettes? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?