The Federal Trade Commission will begin collecting information about e-cigarette and vape sales in the United States, the agency announced Monday, a move that could eventually lead to more regulation of the booming industry.
Though advertising cigarettes on television, the radio, and even on many billboards has been illegal for quite some time, it's still legal to advertise e-cigarettes anywhere (including on television). Several lawmakers have said they hope to change this, and a full survey of the industry's marketing and sales would probably be a first step toward new regulations, whether they come from the FTC, Food and Drug Administration, or Congress. We know that small vape companies, for instance, have overtaken big tobacco as leaders in the vaping industry, but we still don't have firm figures on how large the industry as a whole is.
"Given the increasing prevalence of e-cigarettes alongside conventional cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, the Commission believes it is necessary for the agency to begin collecting information from e-cigarette marketers about their sales and marketing activities," the FTC wrote in a notice to the public Monday.
The FTC says it has begun the process necessary to conduct an e-cigarette marketing and sales analysis. Before it conducts the analysis, it has outlined the information it's looking for and has made the process open to public comment.
"(1) sales and give-aways of e-cigarettes and related products (e.g., refill cartridges and e-liquids); (2) marketing expenditures, including the amounts being spent on various media; (3) product placements in television programming, motion pictures, magazines, and other publications; (4) efforts such as age-screening mechanisms to prevent youth from being exposed to advertising and promotion for e-cigarettes or from obtaining free product samples; (5) expenditures on advertising to deter youth under the age of 18 from purchasing or using e-cigarettes; and (6) data collection activities, including data collection in connection with digital and social media marketing, and efforts to avoid collection of data from those under age 18."
It anticipates collecting at least three years' worth of data, with reports published annually. It's unclear whether the FTC itself plans to impose stricter regulations on the marketing of e-cigarettes or whether the data will be simply be used by the Food and Drug Administration and Congress to push greater oversight of the industry. A representative with the FTC said he could not speculate about the FTC's regulatory authority over electronic cigarettes or about how the information might be used by other branches of the government.
The commission says it wants to get as granular data as is possible. Among the questions it has is whether or not companies can partition out its sales data by individual flavor: “Can the companies report the volume and sales value of higher nicotine, menthol-flavored e-liquid sold to retailers and distributors separately from sales of lower nicotine, pizza-flavored e-liquid sold directly to consumers?”
Personally, I’m anxiously awaiting the official numbers on pizza-flavored nic-juice sales.
Correction 10/19/15: The headline of an earlier version of this story suggested that demographic information about who is vaping could be culled from the data being collected. An FTC representative says the study will be focused primarily on how they are being marketed and overall sales of specific products. The headline has been changed. The FTC representative also emphasized that the study isn't specifically being done with new regulations in mind, though he did say that similar studies into tobacco are used by other branches of government and Congress, often to establish or modify regulations.