Photo: Malcolm Griffiths

    Innovation is grounded in regulation. Regulators can either embrace innovation as a tool to support harm reduction, or they can regulate them to the point that any innovation is impossible to bring to market. During the GTNF panel Innovation as the Path to Progress, one speaker explained that the U.S. Tobacco Control Act was written with the goal that the state of public health will change over time. The idea is that as smokers quit and product standards are implemented, many may migrate to products lower on the risk continuum. As a result, as the state of public health changes, the products that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determines to be appropriate for the protection of the public health (APPH) will also change.

    “If you think about the significance of the innovation of the e-cigarette, today we have major companies that are in the tobacco space talking about eliminating combustion altogether,” a panelist noted. “We have companies giving up their entire combustible segments, and that would not have happened, in my opinion, had it not been for the innovators.”

    Making innovative progress in the vapor industry is measured by transitioning adult smokers to noncombustible products, according to the panel. However, there are many avenues to accomplish this goal as well as numerous obstacles. One speaker offered the audience three focus areas that he described as the pillars of innovation. The first pillar is product innovation. “If the product is not satisfying, people are not going to switch,” the speaker said. “In order to get there, we will need a very disciplined, science-based approach in understanding some of the questions underlying satisfaction. As we think about innovation and product innovation, it’s important for smokers to have a range of products to choose from.”

    The second pillar is scientific innovation. There must be a comprehensive assessment of science to demonstrate that a product is APPH, and while all novel products tobacco products must be held to this high standard, it is rigorous and takes time. There are innovations in scientific methodologies that must be made, the speaker explained.

    The speaker cited dissolution methods to understand nicotine release profiles and computation of toxicology as examples of tools that can help accelerate this pathway for getting products in the market. “Along with that, I think that regulators have an opportunity to create some innovative processes,” the speaker said. “For example, establishing product standards that will hopefully help these products be reviewed in an expedited manner, and most importantly, get them in the hands of consumers.”

    The third pillar is communication. The industry needs to make clear the benefit to smokers by switching to noncombustible products. The industry needs to address the misperceptions surrounding nicotine and the wrong assumption nicotine causes cancer. “This clouds the decision-making process of adult smokers,” the speaker said. “As manufacturers in the U.S., we have to seek FDA authorization before we can communicate a modified-risk or modified-exposure order. That, too, is important but time-consuming and resource intensive. This is a responsibility for everybody to explore innovative communication approaches that can address these misperceptions.”

    Another area ripe for innovation in the electronic nicotine-delivery system industry is environmental sustainability. For example, e-cigarette batteries contain heavy metals. The industry must innovate battery technology that will reduce their products’ environmental impact. Responsible disposal of any product is important. Regulation can also impact environmental issues. In the U.K., for example, requiring 10 mL bottles instead of larger bottles creates more waste.

    Finally, synthetic nicotine also offers innovative advancements for next-generation products. “I think that when we talk about moving away from combustion, that is one thing, but when we talk about moving away from tobacco—in other words, giving consumers a truly tobacco-free option—that’s where science comes in,” a panelist explained. “The promise that is involved with synthetic nicotine is significant. They need to research it closely and recognize that it does provide certain benefits that perhaps the tobacco-derived nicotine does not.”