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Big Tobacco Companies Putting Warning Labels on E-Cigarettes

Oct 1, 2014

MarkTen e-cigarette packages warn that nicotine "is addictive and habit forming, and is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed" and that the product is unsuitable for children and people with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The New York Times found the warnings odd because MarkTen and other e-cigarette brands produced by Big Tobacco companies carry harsher warnings than those on the same corporations' conventional cigarettes. MarkTen is produced by Nu Mark, which is owned by Altria. The company makes Marlboros, Parliament, Virginia Slims and other traditional brands.

An Altria spokesperson said the longer labels on the new e-cigarette products are intended to “honestly communicate about health effects," and that the labels are based on “previously developed warnings” for tobacco products, according to the Times. In explaining possible motives for the harsh warnings – which are not mandated by federal regulators – the Times writes that some experts consider such warnings “a very low-risk way for the companies to insulate themselves from future lawsuits and, even more broadly, to appear responsible, open and frank.”

Large tobacco companies now own some of the biggest e-cigarette brands. These companies are trying to draw consumers from the traditional cigarette market and bring in users who have not previously smoked. There has been considerable debate about whether e-cigarettes are an aid in quitting smoking or a gateway to nicotine addiction and perhaps, eventually, smoking for young people. Recent studies have raised concerns about health effects, including toxins produced by some products that heat the liquid to higher temperatures. The Times also reported a rise in calls to poison control centers involving the liquid nicotine, which can be toxic, even fatal, to children in very small doses. The liquid comes in candy and fruit flavors appealing to children and manufacturers are not required to package it in childproof bottles.

In April, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a new rule that would allow it to regulate the $2 billion e-cigarette industry as it regulates tobacco products. The World Health Organization has called for greater regulation of such products, including a prohibition on “unproven health claims about e-cigarettes,” according to The Washington Post.

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