Embracing Harm Reduction, FDA Gives E-Cigarette Industry a Regulatory Reprieve

Mark Lennihan  AP

Mark Lennihan AP

The FDA says tobacco is responsible for 480,000 American deaths each year, and $300bn (£228bn) in medical costs.

The agency said it was adopting a harm-reduction strategy that seeks to balance regulation of existing products and encourage development of "new products that may be less unsafe than cigarettes".

The FDA's official media release specifically mentions that the agency plans on developing product standards to "protect against known public health risks, such as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) battery issues and concerns about children's exposure to liquid nicotine".

Among those measures are further development of new tobacco products that are less unsafe than cigarettes, as will as considering whether or not it is wise to have menthol and other flavored tobacco products.

Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Friday announced plans to delay for years a requirement that makers of cigars and e-cigarettes get agency approval for any products marketed after February 2007.

More than 480,000 deaths occur each year in the USA from smoking-related illnesses.

Signed into law in 2009 by former President Obama, the Act gives the FDA power to regulate the tobacco industry. The agency added that the toll also has a monetary cost, with "direct health care and lost productivity costs totaling almost $300 billion a year".

What about e-cigarettes? "It's taken a little while, but it seems the FDA is beginning to realize something the scientific community woke up to years ago: policies aimed at destroying the e-cigarette market actually would result in the unintended effect of more smokers sticking with traditional combustible cigarettes".

The agency would target levels of nicotine in cigarettes lowering them enough to make them less likely to get people hooked or not addictive at all.

However, smoking in the United States is at an all-time low, with just 15 percent of adults still lighting up.

Shares of Altria Group (MO - Free Report), which makes Marlboro and Parliament brand cigarettes, fell 11% after the announcement. However, the tobacco industry is already experiencing the blow on the stock market.

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