NJOY Focuses E-Cig Debate on Science

CEO discusses Carmona appointment, future regulations at Wells Fargo conference

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

Craig Weiss

NEW YORK -- Wells Fargo senior analyst Bonnie Herzog said that Dr. Richard Carmona's appointment to NJOY's board of directors "further validates the potential that e-cigarettes could have to reduce harm." In a Wells Fargo "Tobacco Talks" conference call, NJOY's president and CEO Craig Weiss echoed those sentiments, both about the former Surgeon General's new position and the reduced harm potential of NJOY's products.

"We want to make sure the public health discussion about electronic cigarettes takes place based on the science, not on the politics or industry protectionism," Weiss said. "When he was the Surgeon General, Dr. Carmona really made it his signature cause that public health issues must be decided based on the science. That attitude perfectly aligns with our view. We're confident that when we look at our products and the science, we're going to be on the right side of that debate given the fact that the emerging data in terms of scientific studies really seems to indicate that there's a significant reduced harm potential for electronic cigarettes."

Weiss revealed the hiring process began a year ago, when he heard about Carmona running for an Arizona seat in the U.S. Senate. Although NJOY is based in Scottsdale, Weiss had no idea that the former Surgeon General lived in the same state. It got his wheels turning.

"Immediately I thought of what a great addition he'd be to our company in terms of helping to turn some of the perspective of some of the members of public health around," he said.

Getting public health advocates and members of the scientific community on board with the health potential of electronic cigarettes has been a struggle – not just for NJOY but for the entire segment. Weiss noted that, because electronic cigarettes now look and taste so similarly to tobacco cigarettes, many people find it hard to believe that they aren't just as harmful.

"We always say 'it's no more a cigarette than a car is an electronic horse,'" said Weiss. "Yet it's something we need to overcome and having someone of Dr. Carmona's stature on our board of directors was a powerful statement to members of the public health community that they actually have to take a much more serious look at the science and the category. I do believe it has a very legitimizing effect."

Not that Carmona intends to take it easy on his new employer--something Weiss fully supports.

"One of the things Dr. Carmona said in his interview with the Associated Press was, 'I'm going to be NJOY's harshest critic. I'm going to make sure they get the science right'," Weiss said. "I thanked him profusely for making that statement and assured him that I expect to hold him to that conviction."

With scientific evidence and Dr. Carmona's new position further indicating that e-cigarettes could indeed be a less-harmful alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes, it seems the logical conclusion that companies like NJOY would pursue a modified risk or reduced harm application with the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.

"Those are definitely paths that we're considering," said Weiss. "To the extent that science continues to substantiate what emerging data shows--which is the reduced harm potential for the product--then those are definitely things we would consider on a going-forward basis."

Science will remain at the center of NJOY's focus--and Weiss is confident that the science will further legitimize both NJOY's products and the e-cigarette industry as a whole.

"At NJOY, we're not just committed to having the best products, but to having the best science," Weiss said. "With Dr. Carmona not just on our board of directors but chairing our scientific advisory board, he's going to help us further develop the science around electronic cigarettes generally and NJOY's products in particular. We're quite thrilled to have him on board and are very excited about what he's going to do for us in terms of expanding the science-base on electronic cigarettes. "

(A replay of the call is available until April 11: (855) 859-2056 Domestic, (404) 537-3406 International, Conference ID: 28419667)