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Since their introduction to the U.S. market approximately three years ago, e-cigarettes (also known as e-cigs) have ignited a firestorm of controversy. A collection of government agencies, health alliances and anti-smoking groups have been fighting to regulate and even ban them -- with very little real evidence to support their positions. Big Tobacco has even gotten in on the action as of late -- citing popular e-cig companies for brand infringement and the like. Regardless, consumer interest continues to grow, as do predominately online e-cig sales. So what’s behind all of this controversy, and why can’t these new smokeless tobacco products find a home in retailers’ tobacco departments?
If you’re one of the few who hasn’t heard of e-cigarettes, they mimic the taste and feel of smoking without the tobacco, smell and ash associated with traditional cigarettes. Most come in a variety of flavors and varying levels of nicotine -- from high to no nicotine at all. When the user inhales, a battery in the device heats a flavored liquid to create a smoke-free vapor “puff” that resembles cigarette smoke, but evaporates within seconds and doesn’t have a lingering odor.
Increasing numbers of consumers are turning to e-cigs as a viable alternative to smoking (also known as “vaping”) with celebrities like Johnny Depp and Katherine Heigle publicly declaring their penchant for e-cigs, and even popular reality TV shows like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills are shedding some (humorous) light on them.
But as e-cigs’ popularity and usage grows, so do questions about the quality control and health effects of these new products, which only serve to fuel the debate. Everything from the flavors, to the technology and even the ingredients have been criticized. The truth is that hundreds of companies are scrambling to get in on the market while it’s still hot, and as such are opting for lower production cost over product quality -- sourcing all of their ingestible ingredients from China under dubious quality control standards. In fact, many of these brands were cited in a July 2009 FDA report as containing carcinogens and toxic chemicals. While most of the electronic components of any brand's e-cigs are imported, it's important to look for those whose liquid (or juice) is manufactured in the USA. Foreign producers of these ingestible ingredients are not likely to adhere to the same stringent quality control standards. So in the case of e-cigs, "Made in the USA" means a higher quality product for retailers and consumers alike.
Research Finds e-Cigs Are Safer For Smokers
A new university health study released by the Journal of Public Health Policy is shedding a new light on e-cigs, and reigniting the controversy for some. The study was conducted and co-authored by Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health (who has long studied tobacco epidemiology, and has evaluated tobacco-related policies at national, state, and local levels) and Zachary Cahn, a graduate student in the political science department at the University of California at Berkeley. Research compared traditional tobacco cigarettes to electronic cigarettes and found that e-cigarettes are not only safer, but actually have the potential to become a smoking cessation device. Additionally, the study showed that none of the more than 10,000 chemicals present in tobacco -- including over 40 known carcinogens -- have been found in the cartridges or vapor of electronic cigarettes in anything more than trace quantities. In fact, the research documents only three main ingredients in e-cigarettes, comparatively – with water and nicotine among them.
Some e-Cig Protests May Lack Merit
This past January, the Grammy Awards banned e-cigarettes from their celebrity gifting suites at the strong urging of several well-known national health organizations. Most recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an official ban of smokeless electronic cigarettes on airplanes, and New York is currently proposing a ban on e-cigarette sales -- requesting that the products be pulled from stores until the FDA approves them for smoking cessation or medical purposes. Given the absence of research to support their positions, it’s odd that so many U.S. health advocacy groups continue to push for e-cigarettes to be taken off the market. But the battle rages on, as e-cig users continue to vape in record numbers. This past December the FDA lost its federal court appeal to regulate e-cigarettes as drugs or devices -- meaning that the agency can oversee the marketing of the products, but not restrict their sale.
Making Shelf Space for e-Cigs
So for the time being, retailers are on their own to verify the quality of the products they stock until the e-cigarette industry has stricter federal regulations. Look for companies that make their liquid ingredients (or juice) in the United States, and don’t be hesitant to ask questions about the products you’re buying.
While the path of e-cigs has not been completely mapped out just yet, the latest research combined with consumer demand all but ensures a growing market for these products. It’s safe to say consumers and retailers can expect to see much more from these new devices in the future, as they continue to redefine the smokeless tobacco category.
Jason Healy is President of blu Cigs, a provider of electronic cigarettes in the U.S., offering an alternative to smoking. The company is based in Charlotte, NC. For more information, visit www.blucigs.com.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.