Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Who’s Minding the E-Cigarette Industry?

Convenience Store Decisions
By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor and John Lofstock, Editor.
June 25, 2013

Should electronic tobacco devices be regulated as tobacco products or are they something completely different? Four new trade associations with varying opinions and agendas guide this booming category.

With 3.5 million e-cigarette users and an estimated $1 billion in smoke-free alternative sales, this up-and-coming industry continues to be as controversial as it is profitable. Central to the discussion is whether or not e-cigarettes are and should be regulated and taxed by the government as a tobacco product.
Needless to say, retailers have several trade groups looking out for their best interests—NACS, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) and the Tobacco Merchants Association (TMA) to name a few—but the battle to represent the nascent e-cigarette industry is just brewing. And at just the right time, as the federal government cannot wait to grip its fangs into another of the industry’s promising profit centers.

To help guide manufacturers and retailers alike, multiple nonprofit associations have been formed, each with the purpose of taking a leadership role in representing and promoting the e-cigarette—or entire smoke-free—segment.

Consumer Focus
The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) is another all-volunteer organization formed in 2009 by members of an online forum as an advocacy group to raise awareness and protect consumer right of access to “effective, affordable and reduced harm alternatives to smoking.”

“We’re a true grassroots, consumer-focused organization and our mission is to promote Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR), the practice of switching to non-combusted products that could be used as a replacement for smoking,” said CASAA President Elaine Keller.

According to its mission statement, the organization was “created as an answer to the anti-Tobacco Harm Reduction groups’ efforts to ban THR products.”

CASAA is a registered nonprofit in Alabama and Virginia, and has applied to the IRS for nonprofit 501(c)(4) status. Although it accepts donations from a variety of sources to support its activities, the organization has no financial or policy agreements with the electronic cigarette, tobacco or pharmaceutical industries. Not a trade association, its bylaws strictly limit the number of product vendors to one-third of its board members to prevent industry interests having a majority vote, Keller said.

On its Website (www.cassa.org) CASAA provides information for members and the general public in the form of news articles, call to action alerts, scientific research studies, petitions, legal actions and pending legislation. The organization also produces brochures and other printed materials about reduced harm alternatives to smoking.

Member activities include writing pro-tobacco harm reduction articles and issuing statements to the media regarding legislation.
“For the first half of the year, we usually find ourselves fighting to keep the wolves from the door, trying to prevent proposed legislation limiting where e-cigarettes can be used or levying taxes on any THR product,” Keller noted.

The rest of the year, she said, is spent putting together and disseminating information. Keller pointed out that CASAA is also trying to set up a meeting with the FDA to discuss consumers’ points of view and concerns. “They’ve talked to the tobacco people and the e-cigarette people, but not consumers, the stakeholder group that has the most to gain or lose from this regulation,” she said.

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