Even in the face of upcoming FDA regulations, the ecig industry is thriving and rapidly expanding. According to this week’s report from USA Today, we see an average of 10 new ecig brands entering the market each month and this has been the case for two solid years. The Internet has paved the way for many small ecig start ups to push their products to customers worldwide, creating a massive assortment of designs, styles, and flavors. In fact, there are now an estimated 7,700 flavors available for vapers to enjoy.
This new industry data comes from Shu-Hong Zhu at the University of California San Diego. He has led a team to study e-cigarettes and follow the vaping trends since 2012. “The product has caught on fire,” he said. Zhu believes ecigs are growing rapidly because they offer smokers an alternative with lower nicotine levels. Plus he said some research indicates that they are effective for smoking cessation and many smokers have successfully quit tobacco with the help of vaping.
When Zhu first began to research ecigs, he said the most popular brands were closely imitating regular cigarettes in their design. But that has now completely changed with 2014 ecig users seeking out unique designs that look much different than traditional cigarettes. Today the researcher’s team is most interested in watching how the newer brands will market their products to consumers and how the public will react. There has been a lot of speculation that ecigs could lure kids into smoking so Zhu is following the newer brands to see if that is the case.
Tobacco expert Michael Siegel from the Boston University School of Public Health feels confident that ecigs are not acting as a gateway to tobacco use. While some have claimed offering candy and fruit flavors would appeal to children, Siegel said it is actually a great way to prevent kids from ever smoking. “It would be really hard to switch from a cherry e-cigarette to a Marlboro,” he explained. “In a way, the flavors are protective.” He insists that ecigs are a positive step for American health as long as they are used for smoking cessation.
Siegel also expressed his fear that the upcoming FDA regulations could jeopardize the potential for ecigs to have a positive impact on public health. He said that strict regulatory procedures will require a lot of paperwork and added expense, which could cause many smaller operations to shut down. The companies that are best equipped to handle the FDA’s approval process will be the brands that are subsidies of big tobacco. Yet, those are also the brands with the lowest incentive to help smokers quit. Siegel said it is vital that the FDA set quality standards with care. The goal should be to protect consumers without harming small ecig companies that are motivated to give tobacco users a safer alternative.
Maciej Goniewicz from Roswell Park Cancer Institute said that while ecigs have many potential benefits, people need to be cautious about the new variable voltage devices. According to his research, these ecigs are safe at the low levels, but when used at extreme heat, they could release toxins. He urged the FDA to set standards for maximum temperature and nicotine content. He also suggested a list of approved flavors to give guidance to ecig start ups. Most importantly, he wants ecig regulations to be geared towards helping smokers use vaping as a tool to quit smoking. “Let’s leave this product for the smokers, because it is very likely that this product is much safer (than cigarettes) and it might save their lives,” he said.
With 10 new brands rolling out each month, that means 120 ecig companies are opening each year. This is an explosive rate of growth for an industry that was largely unheard of just five years ago. How do you think the FDA should handle regulating the ecig industry? What is the best way to encourage continued growth while maintaining quality control?