Big e-cigarette news, here and abroad

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Yesterday, America s biggest tobacco company announced its entry into the now-crowded e-cigarette market. Altria/Phillip Morris USA advised via news release that a subsidiary will start selling the MarkTen brand of e-cigarettes in Indiana later this summer. They will join Lorillard s Blu and RJR s Vuse (the latter will be sold only in limited regions of Colorado this year).

Overseas, the news is not so good for smokers desperate to quit deadly addictive cigarettes via low-risk nicotine delivery with e-cigarettes. The U.K. s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced earlier today that they plan to regulate e-cigarettes as medicines over-the-counter medicines it s true, but medicines nevertheless. The precise ramifications of this plan are not entirely clear: will companies selling e-cigarettes have to somehow prove that they are safe and deliver what they say in terms of nicotine levels and content? Or will the oversight be more flexible, similar perhaps to our own pseudo-regulation of dietary supplements, which amounts to no regulation unless evidence of serious toxicity or flawed product is found and reported?

The European trade group for e-cigarettes blasted the decision in no uncertain terms, lashing out at what seems to be an effective move to protect cigarette markets and help the big tobacco companies deal with the new regulations, while forcing small companies to sell out or fold.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross, who has been deeply involved in the harm reduction approach to helping smokers quit for some years now, had this to say: In the U.K., their tobacco giant British-American Tobacco (BAT) also has their own e-cigarette company. If the new MHRA directive slaps lengthy and expensive testing requirements on the marketing of e-cigarettes, the final winners will be the big tobacco companies, who can well afford to take on those trials. If the product can remain on the OTC market while such testing is ongoing, smokers will retain access, which is the real bottom line. The losers would be the myriad small companies now selling to those millions of addicted smokers who hope to become ex-smokers. It is well-known that since the FDA-approved methods fail about 90 percent of the time, reduced harm products such as e-cigarettes and snus have the greatest potential to help smokers quit. But if extensive testing requirements are required by MHRA, that would be a shame; indeed, the health officials in the UK should be ashamed of this measure, and I question their motivation in promulgating it.