E-cigarette companies had a booming year in sales and marketing in 2013 and they’re not stopping until someone (the FDA) makes them. I first reported on e-cigarettes back in early November, but little has changed to federally regulate them. Companies are still able to promote their products in all media outlets, social media included.
However, some states and cities are establishing their own regulations. On December 19, New York City Council passed a bill that now bans e-cigarettes wherever smoking is also prohibited (1). This includes restaurants, bars, parks, and office buildings. Advocates of the bill said that e-cigarettes confused bartenders, waitresses, and other enforcers of the existing smoking ban (2). NY councilman James Gennaro, one of the lead sponsors of the ban, believes that children who cannot differentiate between e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes may get the impression that smoking is socially acceptable. New Jersey, North Dakota, and Utah have also recently added e-cigarettes to their indoor smoking bans with Chicago and Los Angeles also considering passing regulations (3).
FDA is aware public health advocates are all looking in their direction for answers. In December FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) hosted a webinar during which their director, Mitch Zeller, discussed a variety of tobacco-related topics – e-cigarettes and their possible risks was the most popular topic (4). While he couldn’t comment on exactly how FDA may regulate e-cigarettes, the FDA’s highly anticipated regulations are supposedly being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). FDA is definitely not sitting idly by while e-cigarette companies dance all over our TV screens. FDA CTP is currently investigating several key e-cigarette usage behaviors including who is using it and how it is being used. Specifically, are people using it as a cessation device, are there people who use both e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes, and are people using e-cigarettes as a pathway to start using combustible cigarettes.
Meanwhile, e-cigarette companies are grabbing all the media spots they can get. E-cigarette brand, NJoy, released a new campaign with a tagline “Friends Don’t Let Friends Smoke.” The campaign promotes NJoy King e-cigarettes as an alternative to combustible cigarettes, and it comes very close to making the health claim that e-cigarettes are healthier than combustible cigarettes, which is prohibited (5). The TV ad depicts friends helping friends – moving a couch, avoiding a bar fight, delivering a best man speech. In one shot, a guy takes out a combustible cigarette and his friend grabs it and throws it on the ground. Interestingly, you never actually see the characters smoke an NJoy King e-cigarette. However, it still does a great job at putting the e-cigarette above regular cigarettes. The closing line is “Cigarettes, you’ve met your match”.
Lorillard’s Blu e-cigarettes, the leading e-cigarette brand with 40% of the market, also released a witty commercial for their brand. The ad promotes Blu’s sleek design and points out that it “doesn’t look like a regular cigarette so no one gets upset.” Watch it and I dare you to not find it at least mildly amusing. I hate to admit, but I find it hilarious. Blu has also released several magazine ads that are very similar to the glamorizing Big Tobacco ads from the 1950’s and ‘60s. Why reinvent the wheel, right?
With the New Year here, we all wait in anticipation on when FDA will release new regulations on these products. With little scientific data on the impact e-cigarettes have on the population, we may continue to see the advertising for a while. But for the e-cigarette companies, all good fun must come to an end. FDA will regulate. The question is when?