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Vape Shop Owners Sound Off On Regulations

E-cigarette shop owners are fighting back against the United States Food and Drug Administration, stating that the community is poised to help smokers quit the dangerous habit but that the agency isn’t doing them any favor by over-regulating the burgeoning market.

Over the past year, the FDA has implemented its so-called “deeming” rule that places e-cigarette products under the same category for regulation as traditional tobacco products. Since then, states have followed suit, with many, including California, imposing new minimum age requirements and heavy taxes on an already burdened market. Congress has also recently rejected an amendment that would extend the requirement for PMTAs to be accepted in a considerable blow to the industry.

But the e-cigarette industry maintains that having e-cigarette products available in America is necessary, especially as the rate of smokers who want to quit increases.

Stephen D’Angelo is an e-cigarette shop owner who believes exactly this. The Hartsdale, New York, businessman was a heavy smoker for years before discovering electronic cigarettes and finally quitting the habit. Now he runs a 500-square-foot shop in his hometown, one that has recently turned a profit after being in business for just over six months.

But now his future and the future of his consumers is up in the air.

The turmoil started back in August of 2016 when the FDA implemented the deeming rule categorizing e-cigarettes as a tobacco product. This proved to be a controversial decision, as e-cigarette products don’t contain any tobacco.

The FDA continued, however, and also required e-cigarette manufacturers and businesses to undergo the PMTA process, an application that is used by the FDA to analyze and either accept or deny products for the open market. These PMTAs are costly and time-consuming for both the companies and the agency; an underlying component of the application process is that it must be completed in 180 days, and with the agency woefully underprepared for the influx of applications, it seems unlikely that all products who submit PMTAs will be approved or denied by the August 2018 deadline.

It is hoped that President Trump’s election would slow the regulations or perhaps even reverse them; however, with the chaos surrounding his presidency, especially in recent weeks, it is looking more likely that the e-cigarette industry will have to fend for themselves.

D’Angelo, for one, is heartbroken at the turn of events, telling the New York Times that: “before I quit smoking, I was coughing like crazy. [E-cigarettes] really helped me get off cigarettes.”

He continued on, stating something that many e-cigarettes believe: “Now if I can help someone stop smoking and add five or six years to their life, I’ve accomplished something.”

There is no question in the medical or scientific community about whether or not e-cigarettes are safer than smoking; it is, by a significant margin. E-cigarettes are made up of a mix of glycol, nicotine, and flavoring, while traditional cigarettes contain tar and at least 70,000 toxins, including carcinogens. So the question of whether it should be used as a smoking cessation method is not a question at all.

However, the long-term effects of electronic cigarettes are not yet known, and so the public health community is at odds.

Dr. Michael Fiore, who is the founder and director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, has spoken at length about the issue, stating this very fact. He also said that: “Some feel e-cigarettes are a remarkably positive force and some feel they are a remarkably negative force.”

Still, it is true that both sides of the issue can agree on one thing. As Fiore put it to the New York Times, “All youth should be protected from any tobacco or nicotine products. There’s lots of data to support that.”

The US Surgeon General’s Office released a report on electronic cigarettes last year that Fiore points to as proof. While it is true that the number of high school students who have stated they’ve tried e-cigarettes in 2015 has gone up 1.5 percent since 2011, the report does not measure how many students used e-cigarettes that contained nicotine, how many were constant user, or how many students had switched from regular cigarettes to electronic cigarettes.

The electronic cigarette industry has been doing well for itself since it was first allowed on the open market back in 2007. The American Vaping Association reports that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 e-cigarette shops around the country that contribute to roughly 50,000 to 100,000 jobs. The industry itself is projected to reach $40 billion in sales by 2020; that is if the FDA doesn’t collapse the market first.

For many e-cigarette shop owners, the industry is not just how they make money, but a way to give back to their community.

Kim Thompson is an e-cigarette shop owner with three shops in Tacoma, Washington, and an online store. She reports that her businesses were doing well until the FDA passed the deeming rule.

“The industry is not stable,” Thompson stated to reporters. “My employees are very concerned, and some of my best people are looking for new jobs as a result. Even though the regulations haven’t gone into effect, I’m seeing difficulty.”

For Thompson, the regulations being implemented had a significant impact on her business. She stated that if the regulations are enforced, it would put her out of business; she also reported a 40 percent loss in revenue and that she had to cut her workforce roughly in half in order to turn a profit.

Nicholas DeNuccio, a 22-year-old entrepreneur, echoes Thompson’s sentiment, although he is more optimistic about the regulations than most e-cigarette owners.

DeNuccio is the founder of the three-year-old firm Propaganda E-Liquid, which currently employees 25 people in Irvine, California, and has sold more than two million bottles of e-liquid across the nation.

He intends to comply with FDA regulations; as a profitable business, he is in a position to be able to afford the PMTA application and legal fees. DeNuccio is said to be bracing to fill out the hundreds of PMTA applications his firm will be required to file, stating that: “It’s a really extensive process, and it’s going to weed out a lot of people who aren’t doing it correctly.”

The new FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, will oversee the e-cigarette regulations; the industry hopes that the good doctor will soften regulations once he has had time to review all the facts.

In the meantime, e-cigarette shop owners and consumers wait to see if the government will allow this profitable business that is helping smokers quit to thrive or die by the FDA’s hand.

Electronic Cigarettes • June 15, 2017

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