Remember the Eclipse cigarette? When it came out a little over ten years ago, R. J. Reynolds marketed it as a safer alternative to the traditional cigarette because it vaporized the tobacco rather than burning it. The Eclipse cigarette was essentially a foil tube filled with propylene glycol-saturated tobacco. You’d light a carbon filament at the end of the tube and inhale slowly, turning the propylene glycol to vapor and carrying the nicotine to your mouth.
That was the plan, anyway, but there were rumblings at the time suggesting that the Eclipse cigarette might not be quite the modified risk product smokers were hoping for. The problem, I’ve read, was that most smokers puffed faster and harder than the instructions specified, burning the tobacco and turning the Eclipse into an unfiltered cigarette. I tried Eclipse when it was first released and had a similar experience.
You might remember the old marketing slogan for Eclipse; “The best choice for smokers worried about their health is to quit – the next best choice is to switch to Eclipse.” Well, it turns out that the FDA doesn’t allow companies to claim any product has a reduced risk unless they’re given specific permission to do so. This is, of course, why e-cigarette companies are always careful to avoid mentioning the possibility that e-cigarettes might be less dangerous than real cigarettes.
In June, a Vermont Superior Court found R. J. Reynolds in violation of this rule and ordered the company to pay $8.3 million in civil penalties. It’s unknown whether Reynolds appealed the ruling.
Going forward, this case and others like it should serve as a warning to e-cigarette companies. Although there’s information suggesting that e-cigarettes could be less dangerous than real cigarettes, there is still much we don’t know about the long-term effects of e-smoking and companies should be careful about the claims they make in their marketing copy until the FDA makes a decision. Until then, there are plenty of other benefits of e-cigarettes that are worthy of hype. No one can deny that they put more money in your pocket, don’t make you smell bad and allow you to “smoke” in many places where cigarettes aren’t allowed.