While in Las Vegas last month, attending the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) conference, I attended a number of informative presentations. One of these presentations was on the “Current State of the E-cigarette” sponsored by the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA), an e-cigarette trade association.
Bill Bartkowski, one of the pioneers of the U.S. e-cigarette market, provided an interesting take on the current state and future of the e-cigarette business.
Bartkowski began his presentation by asking those in attendance to examine the e-cigarettes currently available on the market. “I can say with some certainty that the e-cigarettes that are being imported and sold today look nothing like the e-cigarettes that will be offered for sale five years from now,” he said.
As an analogy, Bartkowski said to consider the cell phone. The cellular technology that existed 10 or 15 years ago looks nothing like the smartphones that more than 60% of all U.S. cell phone users have today.
“Technology and design is always changing, improving and enhancing the consumer experience,” he said. “It would be naïve to believe that e-cigarette technology and design would not proceed along the same path.”
The technology enhancements that Bartkowski sees coming include excipients beyond today’s propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin power sources that do not involve lithium chemistry and devices capable of measuring, monitoring and metering precise amounts of nicotine per puff. But, and perhaps most important, he sees devices that are specifically designed for automated manufacturing, making products manufactured in the U.S. competitive with those manufactured in Asia.
These enhancements will not only provide consumers with a more satisfying experience and retailers with far fewer headaches due to defects and returns, but will also provide the still nascent industry with a sophisticated, competitive product that should provide regulators and researchers the necessary data to support the product claims of safety and modified tobacco risk.
The last point is especially important in light of comments made by Mitch Zeller, the newly appointed head of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, who participated in a panel sponsored by NATO at the conference. While Zeller was reluctant to go into any specifics about what the FDA was intending to do about e-cigarettes and pending regulations, he did say that the FDA was eager to learn as much as they could about the product. “We need data,” he said emphatically.
Bartkowski made the point that current e-cigarette technology was not up to the task of supplying that data. “Virtually all of the research and development done since this product has been introduced has focused on limiting manufacturing defects—leaking and battery failures—and on flavorings. Very little, if any research or product development has centered on achieving more efficient nicotine uptake via deeper lung absorption or on electronics and power management that can dispense predetermined volumes of nicotine. The FDA wants all the data that can be produced as they evaluate this product and the industry has some obligation to provide it.”
Some recent entrants into the e-cigarette category are getting the message. Lorillard, the owner of Blu Cig, has commented on the record that they are researching deeper lung absorption. Three weeks after the NATO conference, Reynolds America reported that their new e-cigarette, Vuse, consists of a proprietary technology with microchips in both ends that communicate with each other to deliver consistent nicotine.
This is an important time in the developing history of the e-cigarette. Bartkowski summed up the challenge by saying the industry must, “keep the products safe for users, secure from restrictive regulations, develop better manufacturing practices and continuously invest in robust research.”
All of this points to one stark conclusion: Today’s e-cigarette is going to have to change.
Lou Maiellano spent more than 20 years in several operational positions with Sunoco, Mobil and Wawa and currently operates TobaccoToday (www.tobaccotoday.info), an interactive tobacco industry blog. He can be reached at (267) 229-3856 or via email at email@example.com.