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SFATA Conference Calls for E-Cig Industry to 'Rise Up'

CHICAGO — As negative publicity surrounding electronic cigarettes pops up in news outlets across the country, it is time for the industry to take control of the conversation, according to the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA).

This call to take back the narrative was a key takeaway at SFATA's conference held in Chicago last week.

"The vapor industry needs to 'rise up' and 'take the spotlight' away from the anti-e-cigarette camp, which is taking the spotlight right now, promulgating negative public perception," said Bonnie Herzog, managing director of beverage, tobacco and convenience store research at Wells Fargo Securities LLC.

According to Herzog, a consistent theme throughout the conference was the need for alternatives within a "continuum of risk" framework for smokers who can't or won't quit. To achieve this, there were calls to put the "tobacco wars and mentality that goes with it" behind them, take "emotion and rhetoric" out of public debate, and accept that the vaping industry must be regulated within a relative risk framework. 

Examples were cited from public health domains/industries that have embraced harm reduction, such as methadone clinics for drug abusers and the auto industry developing safer vehicles, she added.

The SFATA event featured Mitch Zeller, director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While Zeller noted that the conference participants were "preaching to the choir," there were several key takeaways from his session, according to Herzog:

  • The societal debate around e-cigarettes needs to be refocused on "issues that really matter" — namely what role e-cigarettes or other potentially less harmful, non-combustible nicotine delivery systems could play in net population-level harm reduction.
  • The issues driving the e-cigarette/nicotine debate center around youth access, flavors and marketing, which are undoubtedly very important but have diverted attention from the bigger-picture issues as described in the first takeaway. 
  • The FDA has "taken seriously" the comments, considerations and concerns of small manufacturers who don't have the financial and human resources of Big Tobacco.
  • The FDA is engaged with other FDA centers — particularly the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and Center for Devices and Radiological Health to explore the role of "therapeutic nicotine." 

"We remain cautiously optimistic that the FDA 'gets it' with regards to a nicotine risk continuum that will ultimately be reflected in regulation," Herzog said. "We remain bullish on vapor long-term, but near-term we're more cautious given increased uncertainty."

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