The e-cigarette market has suddenly gotten more crowded.
Makers of the “vaping” devices launched a flood of new products in the United States ahead of new federal regulations that, as of Monday, now require companies to submit e-cigarettes for government approval before marketing them, according to company officials and industry experts.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which announced the regulations in May, is allowing e-cigarette devices introduced before the regulations came into force to be sold for up to three years while companies apply and await regulatory review.
The regulations also ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under age 18. The multibillion-dollar industry had sought to delay the new rules through lawsuits and proposed legislation in Congress. At the same time, many of the smaller players hedged their bets by releasing new products during the three-month period between the announcement of the regulations and Monday’s effective date.
“I would be surprised if there was any other period when so many products were introduced,” said Bryan Haynes, an attorney with the firm Troutman Sanders who represents several e-cigarette companies.
Not all the new products may be available immediately to consumers. Many companies beat the regulatory deadline with only limited shipments and product prototypes.
“There are scores of new products getting out ahead” of the deadline, said Oliver Kershaw, founder of the website e-cigarette-forum.com, which tracks the industry.
“They’ve been put quietly into the market. Some of them are just brand refreshers. Some are quite interesting products,” Kershaw said, referring to such innovations as “pods” — capsules that can be inserted into the devices — that are prefilled with flavored nicotine.
The FDA regulations for the first time bring regulation of e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and hookah tobacco in line with existing rules for cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco.
The rules require companies to submit these products for government approval, list their ingredients and place health warnings on packages and in advertisements.
Cigar makers also rushed new products to the market to beat the regulations.
“We have attempted to do in 90 days what we usually do in three years,” said Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., in business since 1895. “If it wasn’t so serious, it would be comical to see the hoops we’re going through.”
E-cigarettes are handheld electronic devices: metal tubes that heat liquids typically laced with nicotine and deliver vapor when inhaled. The liquids come in thousands of flavors, from cotton candy to pizza. Using them is called “vaping.”
Reynolds American Inc., Altria Group Inc. and Fontem Ventures, a subsidiary of Imperial Brands PLC, are among the leading manufacturers of the devices. Their use has grown quickly in the past decade, with U.S. sales expected to reach $4.1 billion in 2016, according to Wells Fargo Securities.
The health care community remains divided over the devices. Some experts are concerned about how little is known about their potential health risks and about growing use by teenagers, fearing that a new generation will become hooked on nicotine.
Others support them as a safer alternative to tobacco for smokers unable to quit.
The FDA regulations are expected to shutter many “vape shops” that make their own products and cannot afford undergoing the approval process. The rules may benefit the big manufacturers, especially tobacco companies like Reynolds and Altria, which have the checkbooks and experience to navigate regulatory agencies.