The regulation of e-cigarettes in the US is an ongoing battle that involves many players. There are the e-cig users, the small independent producers, the large tobacco companies, the health advocates, the politicians and lawmakers, and lobbying groups. There are many sides to this battle, and varying interests to protect.
Fighting for around 9 million e-cig users in the US is The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA). CASAA is a non-profit advocacy group that raises awareness and protects the rights of the American people to access reduced harm alternatives. It was formed in 2009 and has currently over 120,000 registered members. CASAA’s advocacy has a far and wide reach, and its voice can be heard on various online platforms and forums, grassroots organizations, and even the mass media.
CASAA is one of the main voices heard in the debate regarding the US Food and Drug Administration’s policy that will place e-cigarettes and other vapor products in the same category as tobacco-related products. The group is one of the petitioners in a lawsuit filed on behalf of The Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition that challenges specific provisions of the FDA rule.
The controversial FDA policy was put into force on August 8, 2016.
“Immediately, the minimum legal purchase age (MLPA) will be set at 18 years old nationwide. 48 states already have MLPA laws in place, so this change only affects Pennsylvania and Michigan. Vapor businesses are also prohibited from providing free samples of vapor products to anyone. August 8th is also a market freeze which is due to no new product being allowed on the market without a premarket tobacco application (PMTA). Product innovation and advances in safety effectively stop on 8/8/2016,” says Alex Clark, says Legislative Coordinator of CASAA.
The future seems bleak, but Alex reassures consumers that, “August 8th, 2016 is not the end.” He adds:
“CASAA is dedicated to advancing policies that support a harm reduction strategy to reduce the death and disease attributed to smoking. Our mission is bigger than just vapor products.”
Alex gives us the lowdown on the current policy situation concerning e-cigs in the US and shares the tough advocacy work CASAA does on behalf of American vapers.
Policies on Vapes
In the US, two levels of laws affect the public’s access to reduced harm alternative products such as e-cigarettes. The recent FDA ruling is perhaps the federal policy with the most impact on the e-cig community.
Another law that covers e-cigs at the federal level is “the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act of 2015 mandates that all bottles containing nicotine in any concentration are sold in child-resistant packaging,” says Alex. This covers e-liquids containing nicotine.
State laws, however, can be stricter than federal policies. Alex says:
“Even with the implementation and enforcement of the FDA deeming regulations, states are still free to set stricter regulations than the federal government — and several already have.”
According to Alex, most US states and municipalities are enacting laws on vaping that have contentious provisions on:
- Place restrictions (indoor/outdoor vaping bans)
- Licensing for manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers
- Moratoriums on establishing new vapor retail establishments
- Raising the minimum legal purchase age (MLPA) to 21 (Tobacco 21)
- Restrictions on sales of flavored vapor products
- Online sales restrictions
The Fight for Smoking Alternatives
Alex says that campaigning for access to reduced harm alternatives faces two major obstacles: the widespread misinformation and the lack of participation. He explains:
“Our biggest obstacle is countering the misinformation of powerful anti-vaping lobbying groups. These groups are well organized and well funded from years of lobbying against cigarettes and tobacco. They are responsible for presenting misleading and inaccurate information. Because of their efforts, lawmakers are not being afforded the opportunity to consider the promise and substantial benefits of vapor products for adult smokers.”
Adding to the burden of busting myths about vaping is the proliferation of scientific studies that depict vaping in a bad light. Such isolated studies are rarely corroborated by other studies, and fail to examine the hypothesis from multiple angles. Alex says:
“Single study results that only examined an extremely narrow aspect of vaping (e.g., how a particular type of cell reacts to vapor in an artificial laboratory setting) are used to generate scary headlines that are scientifically unjustified. Studies like these, and almost every study that purports to demonstrate vaping is significantly harmful to health are far too preliminary to be trusted as fact.”
Vapers, on the other hand, can be difficult to mobilize due to their lack of education on the issue. According to Alex, “out of the estimated 9 million people in the United States that use vapor products regularly, less than 1% of them are taking action to defend their access to these products.”
Alex adds that most vapers are only aware of very specific provisions in the deeming regulations by the FDA, such as the prohibition of sales to minor and requiring manufacturers to register with the FDA. What most people don’t know is that ” ‘registration’ with the FDA involves navigating an onerous premarket tobacco application (PMTA) process,” he says.
Impact on Public Health
Groups like CASAA exist because “decades of information campaigns and coercive policies (e.g., high taxes and place restrictions) intended to induce smokers to quit have begun to reach the limits of their effectiveness,” says Alex. He adds that the decline in smoking rates have remained almost unchanged between 2009 and 2013.
CASAA believes that a harm reduction strategy is necessary to complement other public sector efforts to reduce smoking rates. Alex explains:
“Vapor products and low-risk, smoke-free tobacco products should be viewed and promoted as tools that can help prevent disease and early death and improve the lives of millions.Policymakers and regulators should be acting to protect consumer access to vapor products as well as cultivate a market in which innovation, to further improve safety and attractiveness to smokers, can flourish.”
Keeping the advocacy
CASAA keeps its head up amid the hard and uphill battle to keep vapor products accessible to the public, especially smokers who want to kick their habit. Alex says that most of CASAA’s efforts are focused on the grassroots, on reaching out to more vapers and vape groups in hopes of persuading them to take action.
The grassroots work is complemented by other efforts. Alex adds:
“CASAA board members have also presented in person to FDA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). We have engaged in very limited direct lobbying efforts, but that will likely change in the coming months. We are continuing to develop a wide range of strategies that we hope will ease the regulatory burdens on these products.”
Alex leaves a message of caution for young people who are interested in vaping:
“We agree with laws that set the minimum legal purchase age at 18 years old. We think the most productive advice to young people, who are considering experimenting with adult products that may have consequences they are too young to appreciate, is to not use them until they are of legal age.”
Visit CASAA.org to learn more about reduced harm alternatives and how to support this advocacy.