Electronic cigarette manufacturers and advocates are out in force on Capitol Hill this week as the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association stages its first-ever “Day on the Hill” lobbying drive. Reporter Nathan Porter sat down with SFATA Executive Director Cynthia Cabrera and Daniel Walsh, president and CEO of Purebacco USA, the second largest domestic manufacturer of e-liquid products, to discuss the state of the industry.
In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception the general public has about e-cigarettes?
Ms. Cabrera: That they’re the same as a tobacco product. That’s the biggest misconception. That they should be treated as a tobacco product, or that they are a tobacco product.
Does regulation from the Food and Drug Administration pose a threat to the future of e-cigarettes?
Ms. Cabrera: There’s no threat per se to the FDA regulating [e-cigarettes] under the appropriate framework. The threat is if the FDA regulates it as a tobacco product. The industry can’t survive if it gets regulated as a tobacco product. For example, here’s Daniel Walsh, who is a manufacturer in 36 states, nine countries, looking to build out and expand, but the requirements, the burden of being treated like a tobacco product would put him out of business. … The products on the market now are far better than the products that were on the market in 2007 and what [FDA regulation as a tobacco product] would do is it would take them back in time and put them out of business because they wouldn’t be able to sell anything until they got an approval.
What do you believe is the best thing Congress and the administration could do for the e-cigarette market?
Ms. Cabrera: The best thing they could do would be to allow a carve-out to give us a separate regulatory framework for the product. This is a brand-new industry. It’s innovating all the time. It’s created a whole crop of entrepreneurs. It embodies the spirit of the U.S. It’s capitalism at its best. These are people who are willing to forge new roads and they need the opportunity to do that and not be stifled by inappropriate regulation. Reasonable and appropriate regulations is fine. Nobody argues that.
What do you think about regulations like age restrictions?
Ms. Cabrera: That’s being addressed on a state level, and that’s fine. As an industry we have no problem with age restriction … Our members self-regulate. They already don’t sell to minors even if their state doesn’t have something on the books. This is a product intended for adult consumers of cigarette products. This is not for anyone except adult smokers.
Is the motive of the e-cigarette companies to get people to quit smoking or is it to have them switch to e-cigarettes and smoke e-cigarettes for a long period of time?
Mr. Walsh: Well, then you get into First Amendment rights because regardless of our intentions, under the current regulatory environment — we cannot help people quit smoking and that’s an odd regulatory criteria.
Ms. Cabrera: That being said, If every time someone’s using an e-cigarette they’re not using a tobacco cigarette, isn’t that a good thing?
Ten years from now, where would you like to see e-cigarettes, tobacco cigarettes and smoking in general?
Mr. Walsh: Personally, I would like to see a regulatory framework somewhat similar to a “nutriceutical” [a product considered to have a beneficial effect]. So you have a regulatory framework, and it’s something where we could make sure the supply chain is available, the jobs are maintained domestically and we have a safe product for the population to consume at their discretion.
Would you like to see e-cigarettes eclipse tobacco cigarettes sales?
Mr. Walsh: I like to think of it as the horse and buggy vs. the car. You have the horse and buggy as tobacco and you have us over here as the car. I don’t necessarily want my car to put every horse and buggy out of business. …But I want to provide a safe, roadworthy alternative. And in 10 years I want to be better and more reliable. … I’ll let any individual make decisions for themselves, and I want to make the best car I can make.