Guess who is trying to regulate e-cigarettes?

Have you seen the e-cigarettes? Smokers have been using them increasingly of late, either to be able to get a fix in places where they are not allowed to light up or as a tool to cut down and hopefully quit the tobacco habit. I’ve seen conflicting stories on how much serious scientific study has gone into the products at this point, but anything generating that much interest (read: money) was bound to attract the attention of the government. The push is on to get the gears in motion and start regulating them. But who is the driving force behind this? I had a couple of guesses, but as this article by Tim Carney points out, it may not be who you’d suspect.

… I’ll give you three guesses which industry is behind the global push to clamp down on e-cigarettes.

If you assumed concerned doctors or “consumer-rights advocates” are the driving force for regulation in Europe and the U.S., then you haven’t been paying attention to way profit and politics interact.

If you said Big Tobacco, close, but no cigar. Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorrillard all jumped in the e-cig game in the past two years. They’re not opposing regulation (the big guys rarely do), but they’re pushing back on the most onerous rules.

Big Pharma is the real foe of e-cigs, and Big Government is their weapon of choice — on both sides of the pond.

This fall, the European Parliament considered new rules regulating e-cigs. E-cigarette manufacturers, of course, lobbied like crazy to block the proposal, and it seems they won. But the drugmakers fought for stricter regulations, for obvious reasons: E-cigarettes compete with prescription drugs that are supposed to help people stop smoking.

GlaxoSmithKline sells Nicorette gum and Johnson & Johnson manufactures nicotine patches. The New York Times reported these companies helped lead “strong opposition” to e-cigarettes.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration is about to announce new proposed rules on e-cigarettes. Big Pharma’s shadow hangs over the rule-making.

I’ll confess, this is something that didn’t seem immediately intuitive to me at first, but it makes sense. Yes, tobacco companies don’t much care for competition, but they don’t need to fight them when they can join them. Marlboro – as well as other major manufacturers – are already releasing their own brands of e-cigs. There’s certainly a point for doctors to be opposed to non-smokers – particularly young people – beginning the use of a product containing something as addictive as nicotine, but for current smokers I can’t imagine they would be too upset about their patients ceasing inhaling all of the other garbage in cigarettes.

But the pharmaceutical industry does seem to have a vested interest. They do a thriving business in nicotine gum and patches, but I can’t imagine them suddenly going into the business of producing electronic cigarettes. It does seem that clamping down on this industry could be seen as being in their financial benefit. And Carney is also correct that the industry spends a very significant amount of money lobbying. Not an open and shut case, but something to think about.

Exit questions: What have you heard or read about the downside to these things, and how much stock would you put in it? Should they be regulated in any fashion beyond restricting their use by minors? Is this an overall good or bad thing?

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