E-cigarette maker fires up lobbying efforts

Manufacturers of alternative smoking product face new government scrutiny

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The cigarette, a product so politically passé that even the wiliest of Mad Men stopped selling it, is looking for second shot on Capitol Hill.

But like Don Draper, the maligned cancer stick has assumed a sleek new identity — the electronic cigarette — that capitalizes on societal pressure to quit smoking yet faces increased governmental scrutiny.

NJOY, the leading e-cigarette manufacturer, has hired a team of congressional staffers-turned-lobbyists to do its bidding on Capitol Hill, according to records filed with U.S. Senate.

Jeff Shockey and John Scofield — formerly senior staffers on the House Appropriations Committee — lead Alexandria, Va.-based firm Shockey Scofield Solutions LLC that will lobby Congress and the Food and Drug Administration on behalf of NJOY. Scofield also worked as an aide to former Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., while Shockey once worked for former Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.

Mike Ference, who until late 2012 served as policy director to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is also a partner at the firm and will lobby for NJOY. Ference also formerly worked at lobbying powerhouse Podesta Group and served as an aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

Scofield, NJOY’s lobbyist, declined to comment on his client’s specific legislative or government influence goals. Representatives at NJOY’s Arizona-based headquarters did not respond to requests for comment. And NJOY’s Senate filing notes only that it intends to lobby on “FDA administration of P.L. 111-31,” a tobacco control law, and “the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act,” offering no additional details.

But the leading e-cigarette manufacturer’s decision to hire Beltway insiders — and place former Surgeon General Richard Carmona on its board — suggests NJOY and its upstart contemporaries  intend to aggressively defend their business interests at the federal level.

It’s no wonder: Government regulators are skeptical of e-cigarettes, health lobbyists aren’t convinced they’re safe and established tobacco companies are attempting to gobble up market share.

Smaller-time e-cigarette manufacturers’ lobbying has already heated up in foreign capitals, and domestically, in statehouses such as that in Oklahoma. And NJOY’s entry into the federal-level fray follows some low-level lobbying by other e-cigarette interests, such as CB Distributors, a wholesaler to convenience stores. The now defunct Electronic Cigarette Association, a trade group formerly headed by current U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., lobbied four years ago in support of laws banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.  

Modern e-cigarettes — small plastic tubes that seek to deliver the look, feel and nicotine buzz of traditional smokes — have been subject to little federal regulation since they entered the U.S. market from China in 2007.

NJOY, formerly Sottera Inc., successfully sued the FDA in 2009 to be regulated as a tobacco product, a move that freed the e-cigarette industry from stringent regulation and allowed it to double its market share annually, according to a Forbes report.

The FDA originally announced that e-cigarettes would be regulated as a “drug delivery device,” which requires each product to meet the same safety and efficacy standards as nicotine patches, gums and other smoking cessation products before reaching consumers. Health advocates and lobbyists are concerned and have themselves lobbied the federal government on smoke-free workplace laws, the regulation of e-cigarettes  and online tobacco sales.  

The American Heart Association spent more than $136,000 lobbying the federal government on tobacco-related issues, including the regulation of smokeless tobacco products last year,  Senate filings reveal.

“There are no requirements for ingredient disclosure. No regulation at all for safety,” said Bronson Frick, a lobbyist for the self-explanatory Americans for Nonsmokers’ rights. “It’s best to think of e-cigarettes as hundreds of individual products, because they are all manufactured differently.”

This rising popularity and scant government oversight has provoked a backlash from public health advocates like Frick, who worry about the e-cigarette industry’s lack of quality control and marketing tactics.

“We are very troubled that e-cigarette companies have been making ‘quit smoking’ claims without any sort of reaction from the FDA,” according to Erika Sward, a lobbyist for the American Lung Association.  

Though most players in the e-cigarette industry appear to be smaller, fly-by-night operations, well-established tobacco companies have begun to carve out a space in the e-cigarette market, Frick said.

Lorillard, the maker of Newport cigarettes, launched its own electronic bluCig and an accompanying national ad campaign that features actor Stephan Dorff (of 1998 movie “Blade” fame) urging potential e-smokers to “take their freedom back” and “rise from the ashes.”

Cigarette king Reynolds American has also sponsored a new "Transform Tobacco" campaign, which aims to reduce the harm caused by smoking by offering a line of “smokeless” products. 

As part of this strategy, the company hopes to engage government, public health officials and other tobacco manufacturers in developing tobacco and nicotine-based products, “that are scientifically shown to reduce the risks associated with the use of existing tobacco products, particularly cigarettes.”

But Frick argues that tobacco companies “claim to be in line with society, yet they haven’t given up their old tricks either,” listing the tobacco industry’s continued opposition to cigarette taxes and smoke-free workplace laws as examples.

Tobacco interests spent nearly $27 million on federal-level lobbying efforts during 2012, collectively hiring 173 lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That represents an uptick in the tobacco industry’s lobbying expenditures from 2010 ($19.6 million) and 2011 ($22.5 million), the Center’s research notes.

 “The FDA has the ability to regulate e-cigarettes,” Frick said. “With traditional tobacco companies involved, it becomes a question of whether the FDA will back down in the face of industry lobbying or enact some real regulations to ensure public safety.”

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