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E-cigarette Messages Confuse and Confound

Posted by ECigaVapeUSA on 10/1/2014 to E-Cigarette News
Tobacco companies, long considered public health enemy No. 1, have suddenly positioned themselves as protectors of consumer well-being in the digital age.
They are putting out among the strongest health warnings in the fledgling e-cigarette industry, going further even than the familiar ones on actual cigarettes, a leading cause of death. It has left the industry’s critics scratching their heads and deeply skeptical.

One warning, from Altria, maker of Marlboros, reads in part: “Nicotine is addictive and habit forming and is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed.”
Another, from Reynolds American, maker of Camels, says the product is not intended for people “who have an unstable heart condition, high blood pressure, or diabetes; or people who are at risk for heart disease or are taking medicine for depression or asthma.”

They appear on the packaging for the companies’ e-cigarettes, which are part of a fast-growing industry that the tobacco companies are maneuvering to dominate.

The warnings, which are entirely voluntary and are seen by some as attempts to reduce legal liability or burnish corporate reputations, generally exceed what amounts to modest cautions, silence or even positive health claims from smaller e-cigarette makers.

One on a pack of nicotine cartridges for MarkTen e-cigarettes, for instance, the brand Altria is introducing nationwide, runs more than 100 words. People with heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes should not use the product, the label says. Neither should children. It goes on to say that nicotine can cause dizziness, nausea and stomach pains, and may worsen asthma.

“When I saw it, I nearly fell off my chair,” said Dr. Robert K. Jackler, a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine where he leads research into cigarette and e-cigarette advertising. MarkTen also warns that e-cigarettes are not a smoking cessation product, a warning that also appears on Vuse from Reynolds.

“Is this part of a noble effort for the betterment of public health, or a cynical business strategy? I suspect the latter,” Jackler said.

Experts with years studying tobacco company behavior say they strongly suspect several motives, but, chiefly, that the e-cigarette warnings are a very low-risk way for the companies to insulate themselves from future lawsuits and, even more broadly, to appear responsible, open and frank. By doing so, the experts said, Big Tobacco curries favor with consumers and regulators, earning a kind of legitimacy that they crave and have sought for decades. Plus, they get to appear more responsible than the smaller e-cigarette companies that seek to unseat them.

The reason the strategy is low risk, experts said, is that many people don’t read the warnings anyway.

But the companies say their reasoning is straightforward. William Phelps, a spokesman for Altria, said the warnings on MarkTen, made by the subsidiary NuMark, reflect “a goal to openly and honestly communicate about health effects” and that the warnings are based on “scientific research” and “previously developed warnings” on nicotine products. As part of a new national rollout, the MarkTen is in 60,000 stores in the western half of the United States and will be nationwide by year’s end, the company said. 

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