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Tobacco Industry’s Back in Business with E-Cigarettes

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Employing similar marketing tactics, the e-cigarette industry is the new tobacco industry. Leading tobacco control activist Professor Stanton Arnold Glantz weighs in.

Santa Clara, CA“The FDA has clamped down on a few e-cigarette companies that have behaved very irresponsibly, but the big boys, the multinational tobacco companies, are taking over the e-cigarette business,” says Dr. Stanton Glantz, a globally recognized expert on e-cigarettes and anti-smoking activist since the 1970s.

Professor Glantz, with the Truth Initiative Distinguished Professor of Tobacco Control, conducts research on the health effects of e-cigarettes, among other things. Back in 1994, about 4,000 pages of internal tobacco industry documents were sent to his office. Two years later The Cigarette Papers was published. In this non-fiction book, editor Glantz and associates revealed in a “shocking” collection of “secret” industry documents that Big Tobacco knew for decades that cigarettes are lethal and addictive and did everything in its power to deny and suppress that knowledge. (The book spurred the Justice Department to pursue perjury charges.)

Advertising trumped Educating

Replace combustible cigarettes with e-cigarettes and not much has changed. Anti-tobacco activists say that e-cigarette advertising hooks young smokers, and by the time they are old enough to understand that e-cigarettes are vehicles for nicotine, it’s too late -- they are addicted.

“After cigarette companies entered the e-cigarette market, e-cigarette policy debates increasingly resembled comparable tobacco control debates from the 1970s through the 1990s,” says Glantz. “The tobacco market has used big time lobbyists and law firms.  And major tobacco companies [like Philip Morris] created and funded smokers rights organizations.” These groups were created to look like "grass roots opposition" to laws restricting smoking in public places. Altria, maker of Marlboro cigarettes and the largest tobacco company in the U.S., owns 35 percent of Juul, the vaping company was worth over $38 billion, reported The New York Times in March 2019. Its price tag dropped to $24 billion after Altria invested.

The tobacco industry and e-cigarette industry rely on lobbyists. Juul and Altria have made contributions to Grover Norquist’s anti-tax group and in 2018 Juul spent more than $1.6 million on lobbying. 

Here is another similar marketing tactic: For years, the tobacco industry came under fire for marketing cigarettes to African-American communities. Juul has also announced a partnership with the Black Mental Health Alliance. The vaping company said its $35,000 donation to the black caucus’ foundation involved buying a table at an event.

Dr. Glantz has acquired some enemies in the vaping community. According to Vaping Post,  “As any vaper knows there’s a lot of hostility to e-cigarettes from so-called public health campaigners. Almost every day, it seems, there’s another academic paper or media story about how bad vapor products are. This creates an impression of huge and widespread opposition to tobacco harm reduction… and the most notorious of these people is Stanton Glantz.”  No doubt Glantz is honored.

E-cigarettes and the FDA

“E-cigarettes were imported mostly from China. In 2007 the FDA seized them and declared they were unapproved medical devices delivering nictotine, a drug, without FDA approval,” explains Glantz. “The e-cigarette company sued the FDA, claiming they are tobacco products and not a drug. A conservative judge agreed, saying the FDA would have to regulate them as tobacco products.”

Glantz continues. “For seven years e-cigarettes were on the market completely unregulated. Under the law it is illegal to sell a tobacco product without an FDA marketing order. “Pressured by federal court, the FDA in June 2019 released vaping industry guidance for filing premarket tobacco applications (PMTAs).”

Several senators also urged FDA to act quickly and decisively to remove from the market all tobacco products that are out of compliance with May 12 deadline, including products that do not submit PMTAs, flavored cartridge-based products, and products that appeal to or are targeted to minors. 

“When looking at the changing e-cigarette marketplace, including the proliferation of products that use nicotine salts, JUUL-like products, and disposable flavored products, it is virtually certain that many products have entered illegally. FDA will have failed to uphold its responsibility to protect public health if the May 12 deadline is enforced in the same manner as the deeming rule,” according to U.S. Senate Democratic Dick Durbin (D-IL).

“As of today, e-cigarette PMTAs have been pushed back until September,” says Glantz. Stay tuned…


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