E-Cigarettes and FDA Regulation: How Will This Affect Customer Experiences in Public Places?

cig-feat-300“Would you like smoking or non-smoking?”

This was the question that any patron was greeted with for several years when they went to a restaurant. But since the ban of smoking in most public places around many countries country since, the question is as obsolete as the ash trays stashed in a box in the musty back room closet of the restaurant.

Back in the day, I used to go into smoke-filled bars and come home with clothes smelling like smoke. If you had said to me then that smoking would be banned and be seen as “socially unacceptable”, I would have laughed at your naiveté.

But you would have been right and I for one would now be glad that I was wrong back then. Now we finally get a clear atmosphere when we are out. When I go to drinks or dinner, I no longer have to air out my jacket and suit to help minimize the pungent odor of my fellow patrons’ cigarettes.

But the growing popularity of E-Cigarettes, an electronic vaporizer that delivers nicotine to the user that has grown into a $2 Billion business annually, has prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to initiate regulation of the devices. Using them is called, “vaping.” Will vaping and its regulation by the FDA revive the query at hostess stands across the country once again? I for one, hope not.

What Will the FDA Regulations Cover?

This move is big news. Here’s an overview on the issue from ABC News:

According to Bloomberg.com, the tobacco industry welcomes the move by the FDA. They believe that this regulation is a good thing for their product. In an article by Bloomberg reporter Anna Edney that really spells out the whole story around the issue, Miguel Martin, president of the E-Cigarette maker Logic said, “This is not a sort of trenched-in, battlefield mentality. We want to work with the FDA.”

What Does Regulation Mean to the Average Person?

I find the fact that the E-Cigarette leaders support the FDA regulation particularly interesting. It seems that most capitalistic industries would not be keen to be regulated by a government agency. But the E-Cigarette makers are. This indicates to me that they may see regulation as a pro not a con for them. I can’t speak for the industry representatives, but my feeling is that if the FDA regulates the product, it could be seen that it approves of their use as opposed to just saying they are safe to use.

There is a fine line here. Subconsciously some citizens will then assume that if the FDA is regulating them, then E-Cigarettes are OK to use. But the truth is that we don’t really know the long-term effects of the devices use. Or their effects on those around us that are also inhaling our vapor.

The proposed regulations by the FDA have certain goals. E-Cigarettes come in candy flavors and are often marketed with familiar children’s icons, like Hello Kitty, prompting concerns from parents that their kids are being targeted with these devices. Does this mean now instead of the pungent cigarette smoke I will now going home with my clothes smelling of tutti-frutti? In addition, there is no ban on television advertising for E-Cigarettes, unlike traditional cigarettes, so there is not stopping their promotion in popular youth programming. One of the many goals of the FDA is to restrict their sale to minors and regulate their marketing practices to discourage attracting them.

FDA officials are hoping that by establishing jurisdiction over the products, they will have better control over the marketing. They compare it to walking before they run.

But another big concern is whether the vapor produced by the devices will be as damaging in the long-term as conventional cigarettes have been. With FDA regulation, it is critical that this is determined before E-Cigarettes become as commonplace as traditional cigarettes have been.

Obviously, smoking is bad for the smoker. But also, second-hand smoke was proven to be dangerous to those inhaling around you. These facts are so well known that major retailers have dropped cigarettes from their shelves in an attempt to appear more health-conscious.

Let me be the first to coin the phrase of Secondary vapor inhalation. I have an image of the future of walking into a bar and seeing a cloud formed in the rafters with all the water vapor that has been exhaled. This cloud would be so thick that there may even be thunder and lighting in the bar….Will we need weather reports for bars now?

How Will This Affect Customer Experiences at Public Places?

Here is the new question you may be greeted with at your favorite establishment:

“Sir, would you like Vaping or non-Vaping?”

hmmm…

On a more serious note, the E-Cigarette regulation by the FDA creates a bit of a yin and yang situation. On one hand, if the FDA don’t approach the regulation of these devices then we will not know if these clouds or water vapor contain any chemicals that could be dangerous to those inhaling second-hand “smoke.” On the other hand, if they do regulate the devices, they are in effect giving tacit approval to their use.

The danger here with E-Cigarettes is that instead of clouds of smoke, we now get clouds of water vapor in the air, a rain-filled atmosphere. To be honest, between England and Sarasota, FL I get enough rain and clouds. Furthermore, I don’t want to go into a restaurant or bar and have people blowing water vapor all around me so that I come out smelling like a candy stick!

This does cause a dilemma for the restaurant, hotel, and transportation owners. Now each must decide if they are going to ban E-Cigarettes in their experience. They need to weigh how these devices will affect other guests. For now, they can likely ban them easily; since the social norm for smokers is that their habit is banned in most public places. But as the regulation and the implicit permission that is represented by that regulation become the norm, the issue is less likely to be so cut and dried.

What do you think about the public use of E-Cigarettes? Should these devices be shut down or allowed to flourish?

Photo: Milosz_G / Shutterstock

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin has been recognized by LinkedIn as one of the top 150 Business Influencers in the world.  He is an international author of four best-selling books on Customer Experience. Colin’s company, Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.

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