Fred Hassan, a longtime pharmaceutical executive turned health-care investor, tells e-cigarette makers to come through the regulatory "front door" if they want their products to be considered smoking cessation tools.
"My former company, Pharmacia, was the innovator in the nicotine gum and patch," said Hassan, who was Pharmacia CEO for six years starting in 1997. Pharmacia was bought by Pfizer in 2003.
If vaping is "truly helpful to quit smoking, they should be invited to do the research and then file their application with the FDA, and get a lawful approval," he argued on CNBC on Tuesday. "If it does good things like Nicorette Gum, let's do it."
Vaping companies often market their products as healthier alternatives to traditional cigarettes and as a way that adults can wean themselves off of the habit. Some research does back up those claims.
But with e-cigarette use becoming an epidemic among teens and a mysterious vaping-related lung disease spreading across the nation, health officials are increasing scrutiny of the industry.
While there's no question smoking regular combustible cigarettes is unhealthy, Hassan said that e-cigarette makers need to gather more data into the benefits to adult smokers looking to quit versus the societal impact of teen addiction.
Hassan told "Squawk Alley" that all e-cigarettes do now is give you a "powerful nicotine hit."
"What I am concerned about is the very fast move — through very powerful marketing tools, virtual viral marketing — to get younger people" hooked, he continued.
Federal regulators are also placing blame on marketing around vaping, saying it targeted kids with bright colors, young models, and flavored nicotine. The Food and Drug Administration is finalizing guidance to remove all non-tobacco flavors of e-cigarettes.
Companies might be able to reintroduce flavors at a later date, so long as they submit a formal application and receive approval from the FDA.
"I was hoping we would be seeing Gen Z be free of nicotine addition," Hassan said of the generation after the millennials born in the mid-1990s through the early-2000s. "It is disappointing we're seeing a problem these days."
Hassan — also former CEO of Schering-Plough, which bought by Merck in 2009 — is currently head of the Caret Group, a privately held health-care investment company that he founded in 2010.