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Thu August 1, 2013
E-Cigarettes Enjoy Perks Of Being Unregulated
Originally published on Thu August 1, 2013 1:49 pm
Electronic cigarettes are a nicotine delivery system that has a small but growing share of the tobacco industry.
However, unlike chewing tobacco and traditional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA or any other body. That means that electronic cigarettes can advertise on television.
John Caroll, Here & Now’s media analyst, fills us in on the growing trend.
- John Carroll, Here & Now media analyst and professor of mass communications at Boston University. His blog is Campaign Outsider and he tweets @johncarroll_bu.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Well, earlier this month, the FDA released a review of menthol cigarettes. They have a minty taste, and they're heavily marketed to African-American communities. The FDA concluded that while menthol cigarettes are no more or less toxic than regular cigarettes, they do make it easier to start smoking and harder to quit.
So should you switch to e-cigarettes, electronic cigarettes? They have a small but growing share of the cigarette industry. But unlike other tobacco products, e-cigs are not regulated. That means, among other things, they're free to advertise on television and they are, which is why HERE AND NOW media analyst John Carroll is joining us. John, tell us more. What exactly are electronic cigarettes?
JOHN CARROLL, BYLINE: An electronic cigarette is a battery-operated device that heats up a nicotine-infused liquid, producing a vapor that you inhale and exhale similar to a traditional cigarette.
YOUNG: But it has no smoke?
CARROLL: It's not smoke. It's an odorless vapor. It has no tar. It does not have the chemical additives that - what they call analog cigarettes do. It is something that is designed to really minimize the sort of harmful elements of traditional smoking.
YOUNG: But it still has nicotine. What else does it have? Why would a smoker want it?
CARROLL: For the nicotine.
YOUNG: Just the nicotine. Yeah.
CARROLL: But it's not just nicotine. Smokers don't just want nicotine because you can get that in a patch. You can get that in a gum. There is a tactile and social aspect to smoking cigarettes that is not reproduced by the other nicotine replacement systems. So you don't see a lot of people getting together and chewing nicotine gum.
YOUNG: Well - I do understand its called vaping?
CARROLL: It's called vaping, although the vapors don't want to be called vapors...
CARROLL: ...because they think it's too dweeby, but that's what is being called right now.
YOUNG: OK. OK. Well - so - and because it's not regulated the way a cigarette is, you're noticing it pop up in television advertisements. Tell us more.
CARROLL: Well, it's not subject right now to the regulations that tobacco products are subject to. So they can advertise. They can use celebrities. And there's one ad out there that - for Blu e-cigarettes that's using Stephen Dorff, who is an actor. And they're perfectly free to advertise in a way that's really a throwback to the '60s.
YOUNG: OK. Let's listen to a little. Blu e-cig is owned by big tobacco company Lorillard, and here's Stephen Dorff on the beach in front crashing waves.
(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)
STEPHEN DORFF: We're all adults here. It's time we take our freedom back. Come on, guys. Rise from the ashes.
CARROLL: Then there's the glamour shot of him, dragging on the e-cig and blowing smoke. This theme that comes out in other ads as well, which is get back in the mainstream of society. You've been ostracized, marginalized, demonized...
YOUNG: Kicked to the curb.
CARROLL: Exactly. You know, and this allows you to move about in respectable society in a respectable way without alienating people.
YOUNG: Well, can you? Can you smoke e-cigs? I mean, many towns like the one that we're in, you can't smoke indoors, and sometimes you can't even smoke outdoors or within 50 feet of a door. So it's - can you smoke these e-cigs inside?
CARROLL: In many places but not everywhere. So there are three cities - Boston, Seattle, Indianapolis - that have banned e-cigarette smoking indoors the same way as tobacco products. There are a number of states, I think three states, that have done that as well. You can't smoke on Amtrak. You can't smoke on an airplane. You can't smoke in - e-smoke in Starbucks. All of them have banned it.
People are just starting to pay attention to this now because it's starting to get a foothold, a very small foothold. It's about 1 percent of the $100 billion dollar U.S. cigarette industry, but it's got a real upside or real potential to grow. And so more and more people are looking at it including the FDA, which is not so sure that there aren't health implications to e-cigarettes.
YOUNG: Well, in the U.S., the FDA tried to block the sale of e-cigarettes, claiming that they were unapproved drug/device combinations because nicotine is a drug in the cigarette delivery system.
CARROLL: Right. They tried to do it as a sort of a smoking cessation product, but they don't have jurisdiction over that. They have jurisdiction over tobacco products. So they are looking at a way that they can extend their reach to also regulate e-cigarettes as well. But in the meantime, it's left up to the states. So a number of states have banned the sale to minors. But right now, it's pretty much a new frontier for a lot of different groups.
YOUNG: Meanwhile, it's a ping pong, back and forth. Manufacturers challenged the agencies claim that it was unapproved drug-device combination. But a 2010 federal appeals court ruled that e-cigarettes could be regulated by the agency as tobacco products. So it's a sort of going back and forth.
CARROLL: They just haven't figured out a way to implement it yet.
YOUNG: Right. Let's listen to another ad. This is a spot for FIN cigarettes. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: To the land of the free. To the pursuit of happiness. To independence. To freedom of choice. To equality. There was a time when no one was offended by it. That time has come again.
YOUNG: Just a cigarette, but it's - was there a flag waving in that ad?
CARROLL: No. There are a lot of young people romping around and having fun. This is the theme that's going to keep emerging, which is coming from the cold, sort of literally and figuratively. You don't have to feel outside the mainstream anymore.
YOUNG: Britain is going to start regulating e-cigarettes as medicines. That's in 2016. Italy is considering banning them from schools. France is considering a ban in workplaces and indoor and public places, and we just heard that France has - Paris has these cafes where people go to smoke e-cigs.
CARROLL: Right. And it will be like a cigar bar. So whether they survive or not, a private space like that will be interesting. But I think that, you know, again, there's that social aspect. I read a story about a young woman who didn't smoke but took up e-cigarettes so she could hang out with her smoker friends.
YOUNG: Well - OK. So as usual, you're looking at media, and you're interpreting business stories, cultural stories. What else are you seeing by the fact that these ads for e-cigs are popping up?
CARROLL: It's also an interesting situation for the broadcast networks and the big cable networks, which have been resistant to running these ads. These ads have run on local stations. They've run on some of the more minor cable networks like The Weather Channel and BET and ESPN doesn't want to run them.
They don't want to show people inhaling or exhaling. They don't want to glamorize smoking e-cigarettes. I mean, basically, they're saying, do an ad that doesn't provide any product benefit at all. And so the companies are saying, well, why should we do that? You know, we'll take this piecemeal as we go along. But sooner or later, in the same way that alcohol had these barriers, these obstacles to overcome to get into mainstream broadcast and media, the e-cigarettes are going to have the same situation.
And the networks and the big cable companies are struggling right now to figure out how they want to handle this. The industry leader right now, a brand called NJOY, N-J-O-Y, is spending $14 million on advertising in a six-month period. There's real money in this market.
YOUNG: That's John Carroll, HERE AND NOW media analyst and mass communication professor at Boston University. We'll link you to his Campaign Outsider blog, his whole other interest at hereandnow.org. John, thanks as always.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
And, Robin, they can cause of confusion, these e-cigarettes. I was on an airplane recently, and I see somebody smoking across from me and I thought what are you doing? And then it turned out it was an e-cigarette.
YOUNG: They're going to have to figure this out, I think.
YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.