The following is a guest post from Mark. As usual, the opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
There is no doubt that the electronic cigarette market has attracted more than its fair share of attention over the last 12 months. This is an industry many believe has the potential to save millions of lives in the longer term but for some reason continues to attract negative comment, innuendo and speculation which is often unfounded. Just this week we saw 100 scientists writing to the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggesting that the organisation should support tighter regulations for electronic cigarettes.
This letter comes just weeks after 53 other experts in the field of medicine wrote to the same organisation suggesting that electronic cigarettes offer the “best chance to combat tobacco addiction” and have the potential to save millions of lives. This now begs the question, who will have the final say on the regulatory structure for the future electronic cigarette industry?
World Health Organisation
While there’s no doubt that the WHO is a very influential figure in the world of health and can advise regulators about its findings and opinions, it cannot directly structure regulations going forward. This has not stopped an array of experts writing to the WHO asking for its support in the future. It is difficult to see what direct impact the WHO can have if regulators around the world have a different opinion either way?
The political arena is probably where the electronic cigarette industry argument will be won with an array of governments around the world becoming ever more concerned about their tax income streams. When you take into account the billions of dollars that the US government has received from additional tobacco taxation in years gone by, how will they replace this as electronic cigarettes become ever more popular?
Perhaps governments around the world need to take a different view of tobacco taxation income which was initially introduced to cover additional health care costs for smokers. If, as many experts believe, electronic cigarettes will lead to a significant reduction in health care costs then the overall financial position could in theory be positive or “breakeven” for governments. This begs the question, if there are such potentially large healthcare cost savings why are these not yet been taken into account? Many now suspect that tobacco tax income has not always been directed at making up the additional health care costs said to be incurred by smokers?
There are lobby groups working on behalf of various corporate entities and trade organisations around the world which are both for and against electronic cigarettes. Unfortunately, in the opinion of many people, these lobby groups have an undue influence on various regulators, governments and politicians due to the financial muscle of their members. In a perfect world lobby groups would simply put forward their argument in a straightforward manner, leaving regulators to make the final decision, but perhaps we do not live in a perfect world?
Regulators around the world are in theory independent of any political influence although, as you might expect, this is not always the case. Governments of the day will push for their own agenda which may or may not be what the voting public desires. It will be interesting to see whether European and US regulators eventually sing from the same hymn sheet because at this moment in time they are taking a different approach. So far there has been little evidence of taking into account reduced health care costs associated with electronic cigarettes over their tobacco counterparts. Will the voting public get the chance to flex their muscles? Will politicians finally sit up and listen to those who elected them into office?
It would be great to sit here and suggest that the voting public around the world will have the final say on the structure of future electronic cigarette regulations. It would give us no greater pleasure to suggest that “people power” will eventually win the day. At the moment it is unclear how strict future regulations will be but one thing is for sure, the opinions and the aspirations of the general public are not always reflected by the corporate world, politicians and regulators.
This then begs the question, if the general public vote governments into power, why do many governments and state authorities seem determined to go against the will of the general public?