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The E-Cig Industry Will Choke on New FDA Regulations—Except Big Tobacco

The E-Cig Industry Will Choke on New FDA Regulations—Except Big Tobacco

E-cigarettes are at a crossroads. Depending on what happens next, the electronic tobaccoless smokes will either rot in the land of once-hyped forgotten gadgets, or would-be smokers will instead spend late nights puffing away in a hip sweet-smelling vape lounge with a beer in one hand and a pimped-out mod in the other.

Everything hangs on the Food and Drug Administration’s newly proposed plan for how it will regulate the emerging industry. If the FDA rules stand, the restrictions could wind up choking small vape businesses and clear the path for big tobacco firms poised to cash in on the trend.

Per the FDA’s proposal, any e-cig product made after 2007, including new models, must get FDA approval to be sold. That means hiring experts to do medical research to determine the health impact of the device, which can take months and cost an estimated $3-4 million and take 5,000 hours for each application.

Needless to say, most of the merchants selling nicotine-infused liquid for vaporizers don’t have that kind of cash. Vape shops—which, despite statewide vaping bans and increased pressure from the government to stymie the trend arepopping up all over the country—would be left with no suppliers to source products for their stores from.

Beyond Vape opens its second location in Brooklyn on Friday. Image: Ben Richmond

 

“There’s no vape shop anymore if this [law] goes through,” Greg Conley, former legislative director for the Consumer Advocates for Smokefree Alternatives Association (CASAA), told me. He’s now president of the American Vaping Association (yeah that’s a thing), and working with other advocates to convince the FDA to revise its rules.

The tobacco companies can spare the cash, and each megacorporation has its own e-cigarette brand on the market. The problem is, those products suck.

That’s not just an anti-establishment bias talking; the difference between pre-loaded ‘cigalikes’ sold by Lorillard (the Blu e-cig) or Reynolds tobacco (the Vuse e-cig) and the customizable DIY mods beloved by the vape community is like the difference between instant coffee and responsibly sourced beans hand-ground and brewed with a high-end filter by a loving if pretentious barista.

Walking into a vape shop is not unlike a specialty coffee shop or gastropub or wine bar; you can sample the menu and talk to an expert connoisseur about the product. Down the road, if business continues to boom, you can imagine shops applying for a beer and wine license, bringing in a DJ and turning into a nightlife venue reminiscent of the days of cloudy smoke-filled bars—but without the stench of burning tobacco.

In my Brooklyn hipster neighborhood, the second e-cig shop, Beyond Vape, will open this Friday. I stopped by the other day to check it out.

“The innovation in this space out of control.”

As I sat at the counter sampling a whiskey-flavored e-juice, Chris, the owner, talked to me about vape culture. Hardcore users will spend hours watching a video tutorial to make their own coils, and customize their hand-crafted, made-in-the-USA piece with an organic cotton wick for a thicker cloud of vapor.

Fans shine up and show off and care for their mods like you would a new car, he said. E-juice companies create flavor recipes like a mixologist would craft the perfect blend for a cocktail. “Virgin Vapors’ organic, celestial honeydew is popular,” said Chris. “Epic Juice’s apple jax tastes like Apple Jacks cereal and ‘airheads’ tastes like the candy.”

Beyond Vape and other vaporiums sell hundreds of different liquid flavors—fruity, dessert, candy, coffee, nutty, so on. “We carry these flavors because adults like them and they sell, not because minors like them,” Chris said. “It also helps them to stop craving the tobacco flavor in cigarettes.”

The shop has roughly 30 brands of mods with new ones coming in weekly. The most expensive is the Zodiac, which will run you $250; it’s made in Korea and has zodiac animals engraved on the side—a more “artsy, designy mod,” explained Chris.

The Zodiac mod, in the center, is hand-engraved and sells for $250. Image: Ben Richmond

 

“The innovation in this space out of control,” he said. “People care about the materials that are used in the mod. The best conductivity is copper. People like to have silver plated copper contacts on the top and bottom pieces that connect with the battery in order to give a more powerful, consistent hit … People rely on YouTube reviewers for input on what to buy next. The most popular reviewers areGrimm GreenPhil BusardoRip Trippers, and Todd UK.”

By comparison, disposable e-cigarettes like the ones you can buy at the convenience store are a very different beast. The battery is rechargeable, but once the juice in the cartridge is empty, the device is toast. They come pre-loaded with one or two vaguely tobacco-like flavors, and that’s all you have to choose from.

The fear in the vaping community is that FDA regulations would inadvertently (or purposefully, as the more radical viewpoint goes) favor the big tobacco companies’ disposable cigs, essentially bringing the independent e-cig industry to a screeching halt.

Whether or not that’s a good thing hangs on the controversial health question, and that debate is raging—a cursory Google search turns up hundreds of articles on the topic just in the last few days.

The scientific research is inconclusive, and more troubling, it’s hard to parse which studies are objective. Conely and other e-cig advocates I talked to claim the negative studies being fed to the FDA and the press by the Centers for Disease Control and various American health associations are pushing an abstinence-only prohibitionist agenda forged by decades of fighting against smoking.

It boils down to the common consensus that vaping is better for you than smoking, but not than abstaining altogether and breathing clean air. And the jury’s still out on how much healthier than traditional butts the electronic versions are.

At the same time, there’s not much evidence beyond word of mouth that the electronic devices really help people quit smoking either, and some recent studiessuggested certain vape pens also burn hot enough to release carcinogens. What’s more, health advocates worry the flavors and ad campaigns are marketing the devices to kids, and reversing the hard-won stigma of cigarette-smoking in the US, which, as the Economist astutely described, “now ranks somewhere between theft and public indecency.”

Since the FDA classifies e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, because the nicotine-infused liquid is derived from tobacco plants, vape companies have to prove they’re “protecting the public health” to get agency approval—a tall order amid this muddied scientific argument.

Vapor liquids would be classed as tobacco products under the new federal rules. Image: Ben Richmond

 

That’s the rock. The hard place is that e-cig companies also can’t expressly market their product as a smoking cessation tool because that would classify it as a drug and subject it to even stricter regulations. Meanwhile, Big Pharma is just as keen as Big Tobacco to squash the growing industry—US e-cig sales are at $724 million so far this year, up 72 percent from last year, according to Nielsen—which is likely cutting into profits from nicotine patches and other smoking cessation treatments.

What you wind up with is a big hot mess. Chris says his vape shops—he has another store on a busy street in Manhattan—technically don’t sell e-cigarettes at all. He sells bottles of nic-juice and metal devices that, “you could stick a light bulb in it and call it a flashlight.” The shop also stocks nic-free liquid, which then wouldn’t be subject to regulations either. He also doesn’t explicitly market vaping as a way to quit smoking, but has plaques hung on the wall proudly displaying the date of customers’ last cigarette.

He told me he supports federal regulations—a sentiment I’ve heard before—because it can help ensure the products are safe. (One concern is shoddy, unregulated device manufacturing that leads to e-cigs exploding in people’s mouths.) But, he clarified, that’s only as long as the new rules are enforced fairly.

via Vice.

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FDA Takes First Steps in Regulating Vapes. How You Can Get Involved.

FDA Takes First Steps in Regulating Vapes. How You Can Get Involved.

Today, the Food and Drug Administration unveiled their proposed regulations on e-cigs and related products. The report, which is several hundreds of pages long, includes many sweeping proposals, one of which will mandate that all vapes must have FDA-approval before they can be sold. One major concern for vapers is that the approval process is long and arduous. This means that product innovation will lose momentum, and that the industry will suffer as a whole.

As stated in The New York Times:

Some experts have cautioned that too high a regulatory bar could stifle smaller e-cigarette producers and help deep-pocketed tobacco companies, which have also gotten into the e-cigarette business. Innovation to make e-cigarettes better would also slow if regulations were too burdensome, they say. Meeting such requirements includes the expenses of application costs, user fees that industry pays the agency, and assembling a scientific case to show that a product should be approved.

As vapers we must have our voices heard, and one of the best ways to do so is to check in with the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association and the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association. Visit their sites regularly to see how you can mobilize, get involved, and voice your mind.

‘Vape-In’ Staged to Protest New York Vaping Ban

‘Vape-In’ Staged to Protest New York Vaping Ban

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The story in New York City is an all-too-familiar one. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right before he left his post, signed a law that lumped vaporizers with other tobacco products; if you can’t smoke a cigarette in a certain area, you also can’t vape there. Basically, vaping has been banned from all public areas in NY.

NY vapers took exception last Monday night. Vapers united at a Manhattan lounge to host a ‘vape-in,’ which was both a party and a protest.

It was a celebration of a lifestyle, with many attendees saying that their mods helped wean them off of cigarettes. As The Verge reported, the crowd was lively and diverse, highlighting the fact that vaping isn’t just a niche hobby: “…a diverse crowd of punks, 9-to-5-types, white hairs, 20-somethings, Army veterans, and artists puffed on nicotine vaporizers…”

At midnight, when the ban went into effect, the crowd counted down and cheered, defying a law that they felt was just an example of government nannying. “We are going to release water vapors into the sky, because that doesn’t hurt anybody,” said Vice founder Gavin McInnes. The atmosphere was that of a speakeasy, and indeed many of the party-goers see the ban as similar to the prohibition measures of 1920.

Visit The Verge for full coverage of the party. There are plenty of great photos and memorable quotes.