The federal government has released some long-awaited regulations for a variety of tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes. But North Carolina's tobacco industry has had years to prepare for the new rules.

Electronic cigarettes and vaporizers generate billions in revenue, and have been touted as the future of the tobacco industry. Vaporizers and cartridges are produced by major tobacco operations and small startups. And some even carry advanced features like Bluetooth that can lock the device. But regulations have been patchwork at best.

Under the new federal rules, hundreds of manufacturers will now have to submit their products – and ingredient lists, among other things – to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.

North Carolina State University economist Blake Brown says this could slow the growth of the e-cig business, and could force out smaller competitors.

“That kind of procedure will certainly favor large manufacturers who are much more familiar with dealing with regulatory processes,” Brown says.

That means companies like Reynolds American Inc. in Winston-Salem should be fine, but some independent competitors may be forced to consolidate.

Reynolds spokesman David Howard says the new rules will lead to improved public health.

“We believe that a pivotal element of achieving that goal is regulation that provides adult smokers with innovative nicotine products that do not burn tobacco,” Howard says.

E-cigarettes and vaporizers use liquid that is turned into vapor to deliver nicotine to users. While some believe it could be a healthier alternative to combustible cigarettes, the science is still unclear.

Howard says RAI believes smokers should have accurate information about the products they're consuming, and the company will work with the FDA on “how best to establish a reasonable structure for review and approval of new products so that public health benefits can be expeditiously achieved.”

The finalized FDA tobacco rules will take effect in August.

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