WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. –- It's been roughly six months since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its proposed deeming regulations for electronic cigarettes, but tobacco company leaders are asking agency officials to pick up the pace.
Reynolds American Inc. and Lorillard Inc. attended the Global Tobacco Networking Forum Oct. 2 to urge U.S. health officials to move more quickly on regulating e-cigarettes, saying the lack of clear rules makes it harder for smokers to switch to the less-hazardous products, according to Bloomberg.
The FDA needs to establish guidelines for the industry and create a level playing field for e-cigarette competitors, Reynolds CEO Susan Cameron said during the event, which took place at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs.
Lorillard CEO Murray Kessler voiced similar views, saying if the agency fails to act in time, it could jeopardize the huge potential health benefits of converting smokers to the newer technology.
"The opportunity that is before us calls for a sense of urgency, particularly in the development of policies regarding vapor," Cameron said. "The future is still ours to shape."
The FDA released its proposed deeming regulations for electronic cigarettes in April, three years after announcing it would regulate the products under the authority of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The agency is currently reviewing the public comments submitted on its proposal.
According to the news report, the U.S. electronic cigarette market is worth about $3 billion, less than 5 percent of the tobacco industry’s total. Still, the devices could eventually make combustible cigarettes "a thing of the past," Kessler said.
As the FDA considers regulations for electronic cigarettes, more advanced vapor products grow in popularity. So-called open systems, which allow consumers to mix and fill their own e-cigarette liquids and flavors, pose risks that need to be addressed, Cameron stated.
In addition, rules need to govern products made or assembled in China, which are tougher to monitor, she said. Cameron also called for tighter control over vapor flavors, which can be used to attract youths. A lack of guidelines for open systems could overshadow the public health opportunity and force the FDA to consider banning the devices altogether, she noted.
"They could threaten the long-term viability of the vapor category," Cameron said. "And that would be an epic failure."
Speaking at the same forum, Carl V. Phillips, chief scientific officer for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, said he's concerned companies seek to use the regulatory process to force some competitors out of the market. The wide range of current options is one of the things that make e-cigarettes appealing, Bloomberg reported.
"The variety of products and the constant innovation made it possible for millions of smokers to quit, by using e-cigarettes," Phillips said. "Any rapid move to tighten control over e-cigs will do far more harm than good."