It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…so the autumn of 2014 was business as usual for the e-cigarette world, in other words?
The season certainly had its share of ups and downs in the sector, but when the ECigIntelligence team looked back to vote on the top stories of the period, a few developments stood out that will likely have an impact long after the more transient triumphs and tussles are forgotten.
Pre-eminent among these was the meeting of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s Sixth Conference of the Parties, or WHO FCTC COP6 as it’s called on the street.
The final recommendations of the Moscow conference in October were, in many ways, both unsurprising and inconclusive: restrictions on e-cigarette advertising, controls on public place vaping, exclusion of the industry from the debate, and – needless to add – the protection of youth.
But they will be vastly influential, especially in jurisdictions which (unlike, say, the U.S. or EU) have not already put the basis of e-cig regulation in place. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the WHO, it occupies an Olympian position against which individual politicians and regulators, let alone industry and vapers’ groups, will struggle to compete.
Another of the autumn’s most important developments has, similarly, had no practical effect yet but could have some big ones before long: the seizure of control in the U.S. Congress by the Republicans.
With power shifting to a party renowned for its traditional stance against what it considers burdensome regulations on business, it may be harder than ever to get e-cig-specific laws passed at the federal level – leaving it up to states, counties and municipalities to decide if they want to go any further than the impending regulations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The U.S. industry may face regulatory uncertainty but it is hardly sitting on its hands. Both Reynolds American and Lorillard, the two U.S. tobacco giants expected to merge next year, expressed great expectations for their Vuse and Blu e-cigs; Reynolds launched its heat-not-burn brand Revo; and rival Altria, the largest tobacco firm, moved toward completing rollout of its MarkTen e-cig while also promising further products.
All three are important players and will undoubtedly enjoy significant market share. But perhaps the biggest news from the U.S. was a further signal that those tobacco companies will be far from dominant in the future e-cig business. Our research on the size of the American market concluded that it is worth even more than previously believed, thanks to the growing popularity of tank systems.
Of course, not a week passes in the e-cig world without a to-and-fro of competing claims on health impacts, and this autumn was no different. Possibly the most startling, if not the most rigorously reasoned, assessment came from the panel of public health specialists, doctors and scientists at a London conference: that e-cigarettes are 20 times safer than conventional cigarettes.
Not everybody who investigates the issue will concur, inevitably. Indeed, disagreements over e-cig research can go beyond the interpretation of results to more fundamental questions about what should be studied, and how.
This autumn a row between public health academics and one of America’s biggest vaper organisations highlighted divisions of opinion on those topics, proving that whatever else e-liquid vapour may contain there is plenty of hot air present; more positively, a new grant-giving organisation was set up to fund future research, though its links to the industry mean it’s unlikely to escape controversy itself.
The really important developments aren’t always the headline-grabbing ones, though. In Britain, for example, media coverage of e-cigs was dominated for a while by a series of stories on fires linked (sometimes with questionable certainty) to the devices. A survey suggesting public support for an indoor vaping ban also gained attention, even if such a prohibition seems rather unlikely in the UK.
By contrast, one of the biggest stories of the season will have been completely unnoticed outside the realms of specialised interest: the release by the British Standards Institution (BSI) of a draft of its guidelines for the manufacture, testing and labelling of e-cigarettes, one of the first proposed comprehensive standards for vapour products anywhere in the world.
Formally a “publicly available specification” or PAS, it has been developed since last year with the participation of the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA), and is an important step toward the validation of quality and safety that is needed to help the e-cig industry repel some of the sillier scare stories, as well as the more real regulatory threats.
A far, far better thing, indeed.
These were the ECigIntelligence team’s choices of the top stories from the autumn of 2014 – what are yours?
– Barnaby Page ECigIntelligence staff
Photo: Peer Lawther