The Debate at the Heart of E-Cig Regulation

The FDA is currently asking for comment and opinion regarding electronic cigarettes and the regulation that is now very much underway. It’s a 75-day period, during which anyone can make comment about the topic and commit their ideas to the conversation.

As you may well know, there is a general feeling that the FDA is working hard to reduce danger amongst children. It has made this very clear with the intention to ban sales to children and even exposure to children in public places through spots like vending machines. All of this has sprung from the ‘gateway argument’ that raged last year, where concerned people and authorities spoke about how children may take up electronic cigarettes and then graduate on to tobacco products or worse.

For a quick horror flashback to the gateway argument, here’s Brian King, the CDC’s senior scientific adviser:

“These products are marketed in innovative ways on TV and through social media. So, it’s not surprising that we are seeing this increase among youths.”

(Source: Health 24 – Concern about school kids using e-cigarettes)

The dilemma for e-cig manufacturers

This brings up an interesting dilemma when it comes to those companies that manufacture both tobacco cigarettes and electronic cigarettes.

All these companies have of course stated the idea that they’re completely against children using either of the two products, but they’re still selling them, and both products do inevitably share a brand. This article goes into some detail on this dilemma. It even puts forward the idea that brand loyalty can mean, maybe, that a child who uses electronic cigarettes made by a company that creates tobacco cigarettes may well convert to tobacco products through brand loyalty. And that’s an interesting point. But we think it’s important to step away from the child argument for a moment, because we genuinely feel that the FDA will be doing quite a lot to stop children from being exposed to electronic cigarettes. Once this whole thing is legislation, you would have to be actually pretty stupid to try and sell to a child, or even market to a child. So, children aside, this article is interesting because it is all about branding.

Branding is effective with e-cigs too

Branding is powerful. Just ask anyone who has bought an iPhone for the last five years. They update their phones regularly and get the latest version of the phone simply because of the brand. We could talk a lot about how great the phones are and how they work, but it is all about branding.

If the tobacco giant Philip Morris decides to make electronic cigarettes branding is involved. Even if the company innocently states that your electronic cigarette is ‘made by the same people who make’ this type of tobacco cigarette, as part of the branding mechanism, the branding effect will be in place. And the company is losing money anyway, so it won’t be hesitant with it’s marketing.

Customers will then begin to identify their electronic cigarette with that same company and that same range of products. And the more powerful the marketing, the more powerful the brand, which is why we think there is potential danger here.

But that danger is not about kids.

Time to consider adults and dual use of e-cigs and regulars

Again, let’s forget the children for the moment here. They will be taken care of by legislation and collective common sense (and being kids / teens its doubtful there is a perfect answer, pushing too hard always backfires).

Instead, let’s think about adults. Adults are susceptible to brands too. If they use electronic cigarettes, and then get sucked in by the branding that the company creates for its tobacco version, there is a real possibility that ‘dual use’ can take place. Ostensibly, there is nothing wrong with dual use as long as it is an adult doing it because adults are entitled to make their choices in life. But if you dig a little deeper, it could be problematic. These same adults could be swayed by branding and, who knows, go back to using tobacco cigarettes more extensively than electronic cigarettes.

We don’t know if it’ll happen, there’s no data on it, but it’s definitely a possibility when considering the power of media manipulation (from the standpoint of ecigs triggering tobacco use based on products alone it has always seemed wholly unreasonable of an argument).

The fact is, the only reason why the big tobacco companies are creating electronic cigarettes is because they want more profit. They’re not necessarily trying to make people healthier, they run a business that is worth billions and they have to maintain their revenue and profit levels in an environment that has been profoundly working to hinder that as of late.

We’d like to make a bold statement here.

We think it’s quite reasonable to consider the unique situation of brands making traditional cigarettes who are now also selling ecigs; big tobacco companies in short, and ask them to face some kind of extra, taxable measures, due to the fact that they ‘dual manufacture’ and dual market.

This will let the smaller companies that are creating electronic cigarettes exclusively, the ‘clean hands’ companies; have a chance of attaining and maintaining market share.

Of course the idea wouldn’t get very far let alone be considered by those who are in the position to make something like that a reality. It’s still an idea worth considering.

This seems incredibly important right now; especially as the FDA is so open to ideas and wanting to move forward on e-cigs.

So we don’t think the children are at risk. In fact, we think their level of risk is reducing quickly. Instead, we want big tobacco companies that are dual manufacturing to consider their position, and their responsibility to adults.

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