The Future of Vaping
Smoking was going to kill him. He could feel it. As he hacked out deep, guttural coughs each morning, when he felt like his airways clamping down as he tried to run for a bus or play a game of basketball with his son, and as he tried and failed to kick the habit again and again, he knew what was going to happen. The patches hadn’t worked. Chantix had given him a terrifying glimpse into psychosis. But there was one thing he hadn’t tried.
He’d heard about vaping years ago, but with stories about formaldehyde, scary-sounding statements about particles and the “wild west” industry lacking in regulation, he didn’t really see the point in making the switch. I might as well smoke, he’d thought. But things were different now.
The FDA had regulated e-cigarettes as “tobacco products,” removing almost all of the manufacturers (that had appeared to crop up overnight) in the process, and now he only had some pleasingly cigarette-like products to try and switch to, all peddled by one Big Tobacco company or another. He dragged himself down to the convenience store, taking deep, longing drags on what could be his very last cigarette, and prepared to make his purchase.
He sucked desperately on the cigarette-like cylinder, but no matter how long he kept puffing, he always felt a leftover “itch” that he just couldn’t scratch. He thought back to before the regulations kicked in – most vapers he saw would have giant, boxy devices or something that looked like a cigar crossed with a marker pen, and vape juice that tasted like fruits and desserts instead of tobacco and nothing else – would those things have scratched his itch? Was there a reason the vapers tried to fight so hard to save them?
He kept puffing, but nothing changed. Maybe this vaping thing was hopeless from the start. Tossing the crummy facsimile in the trash, he resolved to head back to the store and pick up the thing he really needed: more cigarettes.
Are we really headed to such a dystopian, bleak future for vaping, thanks to regulation? Are the unanimously-grim predictions for the future of the industry going to come to pass, or is there a way to change things? Can we save vaping?
With help from seven prominent advocates and vapers*, we’ve delved into the issues producing this dark cloud over the future of vaping, aiming to determine whether our piece of dystopian vape-fiction is going to come to pass.
The Future of Vaping: Table of Contents
*We’ve spoken to:
John Manzione, vaper and columnist at Spinfuel
Lynn Lutz, the vaper known as “Baditude” on the E-Cigarette Forum
This post contains some choice quotes from the interviews and summarizes the main issues, but the accompanying posts feature more insights from the advocates and a deeper look at the issues that will determine the future of vaping.
Why Do People Hate Vaping?
If you’re anything like me, the very existence of the problems we’re facing today – with the skewed communication of the risks and benefits of vaping – is baffling. Surely there’s no reason to be opposed to something with the potential to save millions of lives around the world?
In short, prohibitionists won the PR campaign. They are better funded, better organized and better experienced than the vaping community. It’s surprising we got as far as we did without vaping being crushed in its infancy.
A lot of the time people hate what they don’t understand and what we’re facing is a combination of not understanding and a high degree of misleading propaganda in the media, put out by the very public health groups that should be all about public health and not the money generated by extra tobacco tax that sustains their jobs and programs.
FDA Regulations – A Primer
The deeming regulations proposed by the FDA in April last year have been decried by most vapers for a very simple reason: they offer no notable benefits in terms of quality control or product safety and impose insurmountable legislative hurdles for the majority of companies in the industry.
The deeming regulations have been well-deconstructed by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, and their summary is worth reading if you need bringing up to speed.
Here’s a quick summary of what the FDA has proposed so far:
- A ban on sales to minors.
- A ban on free samples.
- All e-cigs and liquids must contain a warning stating that nicotine is addictive.
- Companies must provide a full ingredients listing and report any harmful or potentially harmful constituents.
- Reduced risk claims (direct or implied) can only be made if the FDA agrees that the evidence supports them (which they currently don’t).
- Vending machines selling e-cigs can only be placed in locations where youths aren’t allowed.
- All existing and new e-cigarette products will be required to submit a pre-market approval application (a long, detailed bureaucratic process requiring many man-hours and great expense), or, if they’re “substantially equivalent” to products on the US market prior to February 2007 (which no currently-available products are), a substantial equivalence application.
- No bans on flavoring, online sales or advertising, although these could be imposed in the future.
What is the Most Damaging Aspect of the FDA’s Deeming Regulations?
When asked what the most damaging aspect of the current proposal is, both Stefan Didak, Lynda Abshear and Steve K. went immediately to the pre-market authorization requirement.
Lynda Abshear (“Lynda73”):
According to the FDA, each application for products made after 2008 (the current grandfather date) will take companies about 5,016 hours and cost roughly $300,000 per application. Obviously, almost no company could bear this cost.
By far, the most damaging aspect of regulation on the Federal level would be the FDA requirement for pre-market authorization. If congress doesn’t manage to protect the industry via the FDA funding bill currently making the rounds, the industry as we know it will have an expiration date.
Steve references a bill – HR 2058 – that could change the grandfather date, thus saving currently-available devices from the pre-market approval process that would decimate the industry. Whether this will pass is yet to be seen, but as things stand it could easily be the only hope the industry has of surviving.
Nick “Grimm” Green and Lynn Lutz stresses the severe consequences of the currently proposed rules:
Nick (Grimm Green):
The most damaging thing would be vaping as we know it is gone. Overnight it could all be gone and done. Vaping the way we vape would be criminal activity, it would be no different than the prohibition of the past.
Lynn Lutz (“Baditude”)
I fear that the FDA will end up over-regulating e-cigarettes. The current proposals by the FDA would suggest over-regulation, as they are in favor of the tobacco companies who have gotten into the ‘game’ of selling e-cigarettes. […] Proposed FDA regulations would give an unfair monopoly to the tobacco industry because their focus has been limited to the entry-level cigalikes.
Meg and John Manzione were both keen to point out that any regulation could have devastating effects on the industry.
Anything that will limit our choices to a single type of product will be the destruction of this product and will result in less people switching, which means more people will continue to smoke or go back to smoking.
They are all over the place. Some states/cities/towns want to tax, some want to ban, and some want to kick the ball down the road and let the Feds propose regulations. The most damaging aspect of any regulation is that once it begins it never stops.
Will We See More Restrictions in Future? What About Taxes?
Although the proposals in the FDA’s first draft of the regulations didn’t really cover too much ground, there is understandable concern about the possibility of further actions in future.
One of the prime targets of this would be characterizing flavors, which have already been banned for conventional cigarettes. Research shows that flavors are important to adult vapers and that they don’t seem to make vaping appeal to youths, but the widespread concern about them could well lead the FDA down the road to banning them.
We asked the advocates whether they thought a ban on flavors is likely in the future:
If tobacco control and big tobacco have their way, then yes. I think they fail to realize that flavors go hand in hand with vapers success at not returning to tobacco. If they stop pushing this false claim that kids are moving to smoking once trying e-cigs, then it might be possible to avoid flavor bans.
Nick (Grimm Green):
That’ s one of the things that is up in the air right now. I will say that if we do get to keep flavors, a lot of manufacturers are going to have to change their labels to use far less cartoon characters and child appealing graphics, and stop making their juice labels look like candy.
While flavor bans could be brought in at the federal level, many states have already made moves to tax tobacco e-liquid (possibly with the hope of recouping some of the money they’re losing out on because of falling cigarette sales) and this in many ways can seem inevitable as we move to the future.
Sin tax on combustible tobacco products exist because of the death and disease (and associated cost to the public) they cause. You can’t apply such additional tax to vapor products when the level of harm is a completely different subject. If anything, vapor products should be under a subsidy to help get them to smokers seeing as they are effective.
Unfortunately yes, if vape products are officially classified as tobacco products. Never underestimate the power of government greed. […] The government is always looking for new revenue streams so it’s not like any politician would actually consider vapers when it comes to opening up a new revenue stream.
Lynn Lutz (“Baditude”):
I have no problem with the normal taxation of e-cig products, but not as a ‘sin tax’ like on tobacco and alcoholic products. Regular federal/state taxes in line with normal consumer products should be used.
Big Tobacco, Big Pharma and Vaping
The two “Big” groups of companies – Pharma and Tobacco – have had a less than rosy relationship with vaping so far. While pharmaceutical companies have been opposed to vaping from the start, tobacco companies have all invested in vaping products, although they appear to be clinging desperately to cigalikes. I asked the advocates why that might be, and whether they’d move into “open system” products if or when the competition from independent companies is decimated:
Nick (Grimm Green):
Of course not. Tobacco is their bread and butter. They don’t make money from e-cigs. I believe that the big tobacco e-cigs are simply a ‘hey, us too’ situation so when they look back they can say ‘well we tried, but people would rather smoke our cigarettes, we can’t help that.’
As much as I love a good conspiracy, there’s a pretty basic explanation here. Big Tobacco are old-line companies. Those types of companies are beyond conservative and are slow to embrace innovation. […]
Some may move to open systems, but without competition I doubt we’d see the startling innovation we have so far. Any big company is going to put in the least effort they can to produce the most profit. Unless the survivors start competing between each other, don’t expect much here.
As for Big Pharma, the question becomes whether they will get involved at all:
In a way they already have with some of the nicotine inhalers like Nicotrol, but those are quite different from the vapor producing products we know. I have a feeling they are not interested in going that route, and that’s solely based on their fierce opposition to vapor products in general.
Nick (Grimm Green):
I truly and honestly doubt it. I’m sure their e-cig would be just horrible. Possibly more horrible than the cigalike devices we have on the market now.
The Future of Vaping: Easier or Harder to Quit?
If the regulations go through in their current form – grandfather date and all – the landscape for vapers and smokers yet to switch will become a very different place, with the most significant change being that cigalikes (often peddled by tobacco companies) would likely become all we have available. But would our advocates personally have been able to quit smoking with cigalikes?
No. I was a dual-user for a year, using cigalikes and smoking. They were a convenience product for me, and it wasn’t until I moved up to 2nd generation devices like the eGo batteries and CE4 tanks that I somehow, without effort, ended up ‘accidentally’ quitting.
Nick (Grimm Green):
I did stay off cigarettes when only cigalikes were available. I started back in 2009 when that’s all we had. But we made it work. The problem is now we have all this wonderful technology and have the best vaping experiences that are possible. Back then we didn’t know there was anything better because there wasn’t anything better.
What about smokers who haven’t made the switch: would the regulations reduce their chances of quitting?
It’s going to be a lot harder for smokers to make the switch. Limitations on product choice are probably going to be the main driving factor behind that.
People will still switch, and that will be a good thing. However, without a broader range of products to appeal to many different kinds of people, chances are good the uptake rate will drop as compared to today.
Black/Grey Markets: Would Regulation Lead to Underground Trade?
Like moonshine in the prohibition era and the trade in pretty much any banned substance, excessive, “de-facto ban”-style regulations on flavored best e-liquid or higher-quality devices could easily led to underground trade. Do the advocates think there would be a “grey market” in vape liquid and vaping gear, and would they use it?
Absolutely, and yes I would, if I had to. Black markets are not always a bad thing. If the government winds up being heavy-handed about vaping then I would encourage a black market.
Excessive regulations will most certainly lead to a less safe market. People are already discussing ways to circumvent the proposed regulations in order to prevent a relapse into smoking.
Yes, I would use it.
Will Attitudes to Vaping Change When We Get More Evidence?
As things stand at the moment, there is a substantial chance that the industry will be all but destroyed before we even get the “long-term evidence” we’re so frequently reminded that we’re lacking. But when the vapor clears and science finally can answer the questions that have been plaguing the technology, will we see a change in attitudes towards vaping?
Yes and no. The evidence is something that does never go well in the legislative field, because the sad reality is that politics trumps science, every time. The evidence of reduced harm, however, combined with good strategic public relations efforts and wider awareness campaigns, to help undo the damage done by misleading information put out there by our opponents, would go a long way in helping with that.
Yes, it’s possible. All it needs is one sentence from this president or the next one; “It’s certainly better than smoking.” If a president would say that there would be a massive change in the way people think they feel about vaping overnight.
Can We Do Anything to Save Vaping?
This is the million dollar question. CASAA and numerous other organizations are fighting for our right to vape every day, but – aside from supporting them and doing a lot of angry letter-writing – how can ordinary vapers really help? Can we do enough to save vaping from its likely dystopian future?
It is only too late to save vaping if you don’t do anything to save it. We have a voice and we vote. We need to use them both.
If it wasn’t for ordinary vapers we’d already have been overrun by our opponents. Some ordinary vapers turn into industry stakeholders as their direct experience allows them to go into business. Others become strong advocates and champions for the product category and join in on either industry interests and/or consumer interests. Vaping is a consumer created solution to the problem of smoking and it’s ordinary vapers that are making all the difference everywhere it is needed. Of course, boosting the number of active ones that will put in a bit of extra effort and time would be nice to see, and I think we are seeing that happen more than in the past few years.
Lynda Abshear (“Lynda73”)
For the average consumer, the best way to help is to donate money to groups like CAASA or find local groups like the Kentucky Smoke Free Associations and the Tennessee Smoke Free Association. State law moves much quicker than Federal law, so we really need to focus on these state advocates.
How Should We Regulate Vaping? Could We End Smoking?
So, while there is some positivity on some issues, overall the future of vaping does look pretty bleak. HB 2058 could save the industry from destruction, but with nothing positive or useful to glean from the first draft of the regulations, and with the upcoming updated version likely treading similar ground (if not going further), it doesn’t look like the FDA is getting things right, at present.
But – in an ideal world – what do the advocates think we should prioritize when it comes to regulation?
Fostering innovation to create products that appeal more to current smokers than they do to current vapers. Getting the current generation(s) and the next one off combustible tobacco needs to be the main priority. The better the products the easier it is for smokers to make the switch.
The job of the government in relation to vaping is to make sure e-juice is safely produced, and that vape gear is subject to the same safety regulations as a lamp, or flashlight, or any other household item. Then get out of the way and let the industry grow. So the priority should be safety of the products, not removing them.
How we should regulate vaping is undoubtedly a challenging issue, and most of the difficulty comes down to striking the balance between protecting consumers by maximizing the safety of the products we enjoy today and keeping the administrative hurdles low enough that innovation isn’t stifled. The basic truth is that e-cigarettes need to have the ability to compete with cigarettes.
If we kept the focus on preserving the innovation that’s been the beating heart of the industry since its inception, there would be a lot more hope for vaping’s future, and it could even lead to a future where smoking is a thing of the past. Do the advocates think this is possible?
Some people will never quit smoking, no matter what. But with the right kind of sensible regulations ensuring stuff is manufactured as safely as possible, vaping would continue to grow until smoking was a weird thing that hipsters did.
I fully believe this. If vaping were to be left alone, aside from light-touch standards and quality control for product safety, I would like to think that by the time I pass away, my grandchildren wouldn’t even know smoking used to be a ‘thing.’
How we regulate vaping could make all the difference. From the perspective of these vapers and advocates – and most vapers overall – overly stringent regulations would lead to a dystopian scenario like that at the beginning of this post. However, a safety-oriented but light-touch approach could do what decades of tobacco control efforts have thus far failed to do: make smoking obsolete. And that is a future worth fighting for.
We’d like to thank Stefan, John, Lynda, Meg, Nick, Lynn and Steve for sharing their thoughts on the issues and making this post possible.