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Are other countries awaiting the FDA’s lead on electronic cigarettes?
There is no doubt that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one of the most powerful regulators in the world and very often other governments will follow the FDA’s lead with minimal fuss. The idea that America’s most powerful regulator has access to data and resources which few others can match would seem to rubberstamp the FDA’s prominent position on the worldwide stage. However, there is growing concern that a lack of leadership by the FDA is holding back the regulatory positions of a number of other governments around the world.
Whether the FDA likes it or not, it has a standing on the worldwide stage which few others can match, it has the ability to move markets and it has the ability to smash products. So why is the FDA unwilling to take the lead on electronic cigarettes?
As we have mentioned on numerous occasions, there is no doubt that voters in the US and other countries around the world are planning a serious backlash against over any strict regulation of the electronic cigarette market. Indeed you only have to look at the European situation to see the massive upheaval this caused when alleged “backroom deals” effectively bypassed the democratic voice of the European Parliament which had initially ignored calls for heavy regulation of the market.
In years gone by the idea that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people could get together for one genuine cause was non-existent. The Internet and an array of other communication advances have allowed people to chat, lay plans and put these plans into action. You will see an array of websites, social media groups and e-mail rings created on a daily basis to attack an array of different subjects and government actions. Yes, the Internet has changed business, it has changed the way governments operate but it is also given the worldwide voting public significantly more power and influence.
Perhaps one of the biggest quandaries for the FDA is the issue of health and long-term electronic cigarette use. As the market is relatively new, even though the electronic cigarette has been around since the 1960s, there is little in the way of long-term medical data. Governments, regulators, the general public and electronic cigarette companies are all in favour of long-term medical trials. However, the fact remains that, at worst, electronic cigarettes are significantly less harmful than their tobacco cigarette counterparts. Even the most ardent of critics would agree, which has created a very difficult situation for the FDA.
If the FDA was to heavily regulate the electronic cigarette market purely and simply on the basis of health issues, those known and potentially unknown, this would indirectly support the use of tobacco cigarettes in the short to medium term. This would play into the hands of tobacco cigarette companies and take away what some health experts believe is the greatest chance to reduce the still enormous number of people smoking tobacco cigarettes around the world. Choking investment and demand for electronic cigarettes at such an early stage could be catastrophic for the industry.
While government regulators around the world would prefer to ignore the issue of tobacco taxes, it is something which will be more prevalent as we move forward. The worldwide tobacco industry is estimated to be worth in excess of $700 billion per annum and we can only imagine the billions upon billions of dollars of tobacco tax which roll into government coffers year by year. It is very easy to say that governments should simply replace a tobacco tax with an electronic cigarette tax but is this justified?
If you follow the worldwide political scene and the various comments about electronic cigarettes you might be forgiven for automatically assuming this is a done deal. However, if you dig a little deeper this isn’t perhaps as straightforward as many would have you believe. There is a growing consensus that the potential healthcare savings resulting from fewer tobacco cigarette smokers could potentially outweigh tobacco taxes in the future. This was not always the situation with an infamous report on the UK NHS some years ago suggesting that without tobacco tax (and we presume alcohol tax) funding for the UK healthcare system would have been decimated.
The conclusion, which attracted major controversy, was that the UK healthcare system relied upon tobacco taxes and the “fact” that the average tobacco cigarette smoker paid more in taxes towards the NHS than they actually “used”. There is also the situation of general healthcare and the impact this has upon the employment market, lost days, etc, so this is not as straightforward as some would have you believe.
There are so many different factors for the FDA to take into consideration that it is sometimes difficult to give a balanced review. Taxes, health care, the impact on other business sectors as well as the thoughts and opinions of the voting public are all very much in the minds of the worldwide regulatory community. You could argue that some of these elements should not be considered, decisions should be made from an impartial standpoint, and while this may be the official line from regulators, can this really be true?
It is common knowledge that many tobacco companies and pharmaceutical groups fund an array of medical research around the world. Any reduction in their income and reduced growth in their markets will impact their ability to fund ongoing research and could be catastrophic in the long-term for the healthcare industry. There is speculation that big businesses have flexed their muscles with regards to electronic cigarettes and demanded a level playing field for their tobacco cigarette counterparts and their smoke cessation aids. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen but sometimes we may be a little harsh on the FDA and its seeming inability to come to a firm conclusion about the electronic cigarette industry.
However, before you begin to feel a little sorry for the FDA do not forget that this powerhouse tried to effectively ban electronic cigarettes out right just a few years ago before being dragged through the courts and forced overturn the move!
Mark Benson is a contributing author for Spinfuel eMagazine. His continuing columns will bring a level headed approach to the dynamics involved in realizing a positive future for the e-cigarette industry. For more information on electronic cigarettes and the various products available please visit the OKCigs website