A Senate committee mulled the possible need for restrictions on electronic cigarette marketing Wednesday. Though no legislation has been proposed, one industry leader tells U.S. News he agrees with more hawkish senators that candy-flavored options should be banned.
Miguel Martin ended an 18-year career in the combustible cigarette industry, including time as vice president of sales at Altria, in 2013 to become president of e-cigarette maker Logic Technology, currently the second-bestselling brand in the large convenience store market.
Logic offers just two e-liquid flavors: tobacco and menthol. The company’s website deters underage buyers with age verification technology that catches people who mistype their birthday and/or address, and it does not buy television advertising.
The self-imposed standards are a point of pride for Martin, who does not personally use e-cigarettes. He supports industrywide standards to move the booming market toward Logic’s practices.
Some government regulations should wait for further scientific evidence, Martin says, including additions of e-cigarettes to indoor smoking bans. But he supports banning online sales without firm age verification and also supports a prohibition on certain flavors.
“I would support and we would support a ban on candy or youth-oriented flavor profiles,” Martin says. “It’s an adult product, so any flavor profile like bubble gum or candy or the litany of things that someone would deem to be youth-oriented I think is a mistake and it is contrary to the basis of this product, which is it’s an alternative for adult smokers, and the key word there is adult.”
Martin says “we have no internal evidence that says that, say, a bubble gum electronic cigarette is more attractive to children than a tobacco flavored [option], [but] I would expect that to be the case.”
He also says certain flavors give the industry a bad rap.
“I don’t have any data as to whether children are enticed, but I think it gives the impression you’re positioning an adult product toward a non-adult audience,” he says. “I think it gives credence to those that say you aren't really trying to market and sell these products to adults.”
That viewpoint is heresy to other players in the industry and many e-cigarette users.
Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association industry group uses a flavor he describes as “watermelon bubble gum” and sees business motives behind Martin’s position.
“It is hardly surprising that a former executive at Altria would believe in handicapping his competition by banning products that his company does not sell,” Conley says. “Miguel Martin clearly has zero regard for public health or the adult smokers who have only managed to quit after finding a flavor that works for them.”
Conley, also a research fellow at the Heartland Institute, adds: “Instead of fearmongering about flavored vapor products, maybe Martin should go back to selling cigarettes.”
Carl V. Phillips, scientific director of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, the largest grass roots e-cigarette consumer group, agrees.
“Corporate interests are often not aligned with what is best for consumers or public health,” he says. “In this case, it is a blatant case of trying to ban the competition for competitive advantage, and the stated reasons are simply rationalization. The reason he does not have any evidence about children being enticed by flavors is that there is none. Literally none at all.”
Phillips says many adult e-cigarette users intentionally chose a flavor dissimilar to tobacco and menthol to help them lose a taste for combustible cigarettes.
Julie Woessner, president of the consumer group, says she’s well into adulthood and prefers bubble gum, sour grape and maple peach flavors.
Unlike their foul-smelling cousins, e-cigarettes heat a liquid that’s generally a blend of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavoring and nicotine. The long-term health effects of their use is unclear, but preliminary studies show and most health professionals agree they are less harmful than smoke-producing cigarettes.