From: Associated Press
By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM
RICHMOND, Va. – Companies vying for a stake in the fast-growing electronic cigarette business are reviving decades-old marketing tactics the tobacco industry has used.
They are using cab-top and bus stop displays and sponsoring race cars, while encouraging smokers to “rise from the ashes” and take back their freedom in slick TV commercials featuring celebrities like Jenny McCarthy.
The FDA plans to set marketing and product regulations for electronic cigarettes in the future. But for now, almost anything goes. “Right now it’s the wild, wild west,” said Mitch Zeller of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale. Companies say users get their nicotine without the thousands of chemicals, tar or odor of regular cigarettes.
So far, there is not much scientific evidence showing e-cigarettes help smokers quit or smoke less, and it is unclear how safe they are.
The industry has rocketed from thousands of users in 2006 to several million worldwide who have more than 200 brands to choose from. Companies like NJOY and Blu Ecigs are advertising on TV, forbidden for cigarettes for more than 40 years. “The ads, themes and messages are precisely the same (as those) used by the tobacco industry for decades that made those products so appealing to young people,” said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The makers of e-cigarettes defend their strategy. “There’s the potential here that e-cigs could do a tremendous amount of good, more good than anything anyone has done on the anti-smoking side since anti-smoking was invented,” said Jason Healy, the founder of Blu and now a brand spokesman.
There are a few limitations on marketing. Companies cannot tout e-cigarettes as stop-smoking aids, unless they want to be regulated by the FDA under stricter rules for drug-delivery devices. But many are sold as “cigarette alternatives.” Many companies restrict sales to minors, but only a couple of dozen states have laws banning it.
One of the toughest issues the FDA may have to deal with is whether lightly regulating electronic cigarettes might actually be better for public health overall, if smokers switch and e-cigarettes really are safer. If that’s true, it “sure looks like the good would far outweigh the bad,” Zeller said. “But we need the evidence to know how this is going to play out.”