By Peter Galuszka
There’s a mighty disconnect between being innovative in developing new products and putting the buying public in danger. We are often lectured about the benefits brought by industrial creativity unfettered by regulation on this blog and elsewhere but that isn’t always the case.
In fact, doing so without meaningful regulation can spell big disaster for both the public and corporations. The case in point: vaping.
About a decade ago, tinkerers in Asia came up with a pipe-like, vapor device that could give the user an addictive kick of nicotine mixed in a soup of vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol and any number of hundreds of flavors.
In a few short years, vaping grew with mostly-Asian-made devices to head-shop-like outlets typically located in chic-chic shopping districts or strip malls, some with the motif of 50-year-old head shops with lots of the art of psychedelic or the heavy metal era.
Obviously aimed at young vapers, flavors galore were added. Here’s one of them pitched by a vaping shop I visited for a news story:
“If you gaze at the stars long enough, you might get a glimpse of the proverbial “pie in the sky.” Reward yourself here on Earth, instead, by trying this incredibly delicious toasted coconut cream flavor. The buttery baked piecrust and the sweet vanilla with coconut filling are enough to make you feel like you’ve tasted heaven!”
And you got your addictive nicotine hit, too! It seemed too good to be, too. Proponents claimed that zapping prevented users from getting the cancer associated with the tar and other carcinogens founded in typically burned cigarettes and might actually wean you off cigarettes. Vaping grew overnight into a multi-billion-plus market. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration scratched its head about regulation under the Obama Administration and then, Trump delayed regs, at least for a while.
Big Tobacco like Henrico County-based Altria were skittish about getting too involved in vaping, even though its best-selling brand, Marlboro, and other brands were seeing fewer sales. They needed a replacement product.
Last winter, Philip Morris USA/Altria went in a big way and bought JUUL, the largest vaping firm in the country that was based in cool San Francisco (which only seemed to add to the panache) for a sizable $12.8 billion.
Then the vaping smoke, literally, the fan. Hundreds of users became and some died, apparently from some byproduct inn the vaping. It wasn’t clear why. Was it additives from the flavors? Some kind of vitamin? In some cases, bad batteries assembly in Asia with no regulatory standards exploded in use, basically killing some users by making their mouth and jaw (and in some cases, parts of their head) disintegrate.
Now, it’s a real regulatory and corporate mess. JUUL and Altria have pulled millions of dollars worth of advertising as states either ban e-cigarettes outright or ones with flavors. Altria had been due to re-merge with Swiss-based Philip Morris International, but the Europeans, queasy about vaping, nixed the deal.
According to Seeking Alfa, JUUL is expected to announce today plans to cut $1 billion in spending next year, including cuts in marketing and lobbying. It has already been running nationwide “be careful when you use our products” ads sort of the like the type being printed by the maker of opioids and Boeing Max737 aircraft.
On vaping, former Food and Drug Administration David Kessler, who had been speaking at Virginia Commonwealth University, Nov. 11, said: “The industry blew it. It had a perfect opportunity to help figure out how to get a safer alternative and blew it with this explosion in youth use.”There are currently no comments highlighted.