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Big Tobacco Moving Away from Smoking?

While anti-smokers and health advocates bemoan the fact that people are still smoking, one company seems to believe that it’s only a matter of time before smoking is gone for good: tobacco giant Philip Morris. The company is spending large amounts of money on new facilities that focus on safer products like e-cigarettes, while allowing tobacco cigarette production to lag behind.

Smoking has been on the decline for many years, due to increased awareness of health risks, rising costs and a general negative attitude that makes being a smoker “uncool.” E-cigarettes and personal vaporizers, which produce vapor and contain no tobacco, are safer than smoking and in the long term, vaping generally costs less. These facts have made many smokers switch to vaping, and Philip Morris has noticed. The company already has a hybrid e-cigarette product in testing and is trying to get FDA approval to release it in the United States as a “reduced-risk” product.

Called the iQOS, the device produces vapor but instead of using e-liquid, it features a component called a heat stick that contains tobacco. The stick is inserted in the device and a battery heats it, producing vapor. Because the iQOS contains tobacco, Philip Morris says it should be more satisfying to smokers than e-cigarettes. But many people who support vaping say that the iQOS is a step backward for public health because e-cigarettes contain no tobacco at all.

As far as the FDA and many state and local governments across the country are concerned, it doesn’t matter much because most legislation considers e-cigarettes to be tobacco products anyway, simply because they (usually) contain nicotine. The deeming of e-cigarettes and e-liquid as tobacco products is highly controversial, but for the moment, the law says that any vaping product that is to remain on the market after August of 2018 will have to get FDA approval. That is an expensive process, but Philip Morris is able to afford the cost and has submitted the iQOS for approval. The application was reportedly about 2 million pages long.

Because the majority of vaping products are produced by small companies, it’s likely that only the few that are owned by tobacco companies will be able to get FDA approval. The cost for the testing is reported to be anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million per product. A small company that produces several different types of e-liquid would never be able to afford it, so if the rules don’t change, many vaping products will be off the market soon. There is currently a campaign to get the FDA to lighten up the rules and allow most vaping products on the market now to be grandfathered. A bipartisan bill asks for clarification and a change of the grandfather clause; if it passes, many vaping businesses could be saved, though they would still be faced with the FDA rules for future products.

What could happen in the near future is that Big Tobacco could become Big Vaping; dominating the e-cigarette market with products that are officially declared to be safer than smoking. The irony is that devices like iQOS with its tobacco heat stick may in reality be more dangerous than regular e-cigarettes. There is no actual proof of that yet, but the problem remains that because of the misguided attitude about e-cigarette dangers and the punitive measures lawmakers are taking; basically, making it very expensive to vape or to sell vape products, the future could see the wealthiest, rather than the safest products winning out.

Electronic Cigarettes • June 15, 2017

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