There’s a headline no one saw coming. Big tobacco companies are jumping in front of public health officials when it comes to the e-cigarette phenomenon. Are they looking out for the public good? Bottom-line? Or, are the companies just trying to get ahead of the coming e-cigarette regulation.

History says this is a move to protect the business of big tobacco. The major players were actually the lead in the 1990s to have the FDA regulate nicotine. It sounds counter-intuitive, but when you’re a Fortune 500, dealing with regulations is the cost of business. If you have a small tobacco company, it’s crippling.

Take the MarkTen electronic cigarette package. It’s warning label is 116 words. Granted, e-cigarette packages are bigger than a pack of smokes, but the warnings are decidedly larger than those on traditional packs of cigarettes.

MarkTen is made by Atria, which runs the Marlboro brand. The warning focuses on nicotine, which is “addictive and habit-forming, and it is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed. It is not intended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, or people … who take medicine for depression or asthma. Nicotine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and cause dizziness, nausea and stomach pain.”

e-cigarette warning labels

It doesn’t sound like a company that wants to sell the devices, and it could be they would rather keep consumers fixated on traditional tobacco.

There is no federal guidelines that require health warnings on e-cigarette packaging, but MakerTen released a statement saying “we had to do what we thought was right.”

A major corporation looking out for the common good. Did the Earth just crack in half?

E-Cigarette Warning Motives

Smaller brands have a different take on MakerTen ‘doing what’s right.’ The companies insist the ploy is ripped from the 1990s playbook. Play up regulation to stifle competition.

In this case, scientists have argued e-cigarettes can represent a path to quitting traditional tobacco. By slapping giant warnings on the packaging, the companies are hoping to keep consumers on traditional tobacco versus making the switch.

Vaping has become a vibrant subculture, and the companies are worried about its impact to earnings. The small companies are warning the regulations and rules proposed by bigger firms would stifle the industry.

To hear Atria talk, you think the company was telling you to eat your vegetables.

“Our stated goal is to get to e-vapor leadership, to have the strongest brands in the marketplace,” said the Altria spokesman. He could not predict the impact of increased regulation on smaller firms. “I don’t know how they run their businesses and what it would cost them to meet those requirements.”

That’s the polite way of saying we are going to destroy your business. Have a nice day.

E-Cigarette Regulation

Every anti-tobacco group wants regulations on the devices. There’s nothing wrong with uniform safety standards, and banning the sales to minors. Studies are still being completed on using the devices long-term, so the jury is still out on the health effects.

e-cigarette vaper

However, if using one can help a heavy smoker quit, then let’s focus on treating with e-cigarettes. Letting big tobacco run rampant with warning labels to scare consumers into sticking to traditional cigarettes solves nothing.

The FDA’s final rules will take into account smaller manufacturers. Unfortunately, those smaller companies do not have the lobbying budgets the big firms do.

What happens from here? Already the warnings are having an impact on growth. Last year, the industry was seeing 19 percent growth. The fourth quarter of 2014? Growth had slipped to 5 percent.

Balance is what’s needed in the $7 billion industry, but in the end, big business will win out. Once regulations and rules get codified, the upstarts just don’t have the cash on hand to adapt.

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