Another day, another strict e-cig law that will punish marginalized groups and destroy small businesses. This one is a bit different. The Reversing Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act 2019 is the most punitive anti-vaping bill yet. It is a catch-all that includes the all of the industry killing regulations and laws that have been proposed in previous bills, such as the Safe Kids Act.
Sponsored by Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Donna Shalala (D-FL), it would ban virtually all cigarette and ejuice flavors. It would outlaw e-cig marketing, raise the purchase age to 21 and ban online sales.
Unlike the US Senate investigation into Juul, the Reversing Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act did not include a letter that berated a private company, Juul, for associating with groups that have ties to the opposition political party.
Reversing Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act Benefits Juul-Altria
The biggest question about this bill is if it would actually end up benefiting Juul and the Big Tobacco players by wiping out their opposition with the stroke of pen. E-Juice makers would be decimated by this law.
There is a reason why Altria supports an ejuice flavor ban. Once the Marlboro maker purchased 35 percent of Juul, they had plenty of skin in the game. In an industry where flavors are limited, eCommerce is banned and small businesses are closed, Juul would be left with in an unassailable position, and this ascendancy would be locked in by force of law.
Apart from a ban on prefilled/closed vape pod systems, the biggest challenge Juul faces is the explosion of open vape pod devices. These devices are also optimized for nic salts, but have far more flavors to choose to from.
Juul Alternatives Eliminated By Law
Juul can never hope to match the depth, quality and flavor options provided by the thousands of nic salt and freebase nicotine ejuices available on the market.
There is nothing wrong with Juul's nic salt formulations per se, in fact they are tremendously popular, but the vibrant e-Juice industry has created tens of thousands of flavors that are optimized for hundreds of types of devices.
Juul has a mass produced product, and it is inconceivable that a single company with only style of device could ever match this variety.
Our feature Top Ten Juul Alternatives, compares the best of these open pod systems. Juul and Altria would surely benefit if this challenge is nipped in the bud with a flavor ban. Closing these flavor shops would leave only a handful of players standing and lock in Juul's market share for the foreseeable future.
Future of Vaping Turned Over to Big Tobacco
The Reversing Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act would likely have the perverse impact of benefiting the company that responsible for creating the vaping devices and pioneering the ultra-potent nic salt ejuices that are preferred by teens.
It would be almost impossible to draw up a bill that more effectively kills off small vaping businesses that cater to older customers and while leaving the industry giants untouched. By banning e-commerce, vaping would be shifted back to gas stations, and convenience stores.
This is great news for Juul, their alliance with Altria gives them a tremendous footprint in the brick and mortar market. It is not such great news for the millions of adult vapers who prefer other devices and flavors.
Very few companies in the vaping industry have the wherewithal to survive a federal onslaught. President Trump’s $100 million user fee on the vaping industry would also be enforced in this new law.
For a complete breakdown of what allowed Juul to disrupt the e-cig industry, your questions will all be answered in our feature: The Truth and Technology Behind Juul and Nic Salts Revealed.
Teen Vaping Epidemic
There is no question that what is framed as the teen vaping epidemic poses an existential threat to the vaping industry. Where former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb acknowledged that it would be a huge net benefit if smokers shifted to vaping, these Congressional representatives do not possess his understanding of the science involved. In the eyes of far too many politicians, total nicotine abstinence is the gold standard and prohibition is the solution.
Anti-Vaping Politicians Are Behind the Times
Gottlieb has been making the rounds on morning talk shows. One of his talking points is a potential Juul and vape pod ban. This is not great news for the vaping industry but at least he is pointed in direction that is defensible.
Closed pod systems and nic salts are what is being used by minors. Big mods with low nicotine ejuice, cartomizers and disposable ecigs count adult ex-smokers as their primary users.
A common thread among anti-vapers is how far behind the times they are. Note that the words “salt nic” and "nic salts" never come up in these e-cig prohibition discussions.
If you are unfamiliar with nicotine salts, or want a definitive breakdown of the ultimate ejuice game changer, check out our feature What is Salt Nic?
For the time being, the idea that a much more potent nicotine formulation could play some role in the appeal of a product to minors is a concept that is too radical to consider.
Senate Investigates Juul
Last week, a group of Democratic Senators picked up the thread and decided that this new-fangled Juul device might in some way be linked to teen vaping. But rather than relying on anything scientific, they complained about a long defunct influencers program and cited a preposterous collage of e-cig advertisements that Stanford University Psychology Department passed off as research. The soft sciences, indeed.
Rather than focusing on technology and trends of use, we are once again being treated to the usual bizarre obsession with Gummi Bear e-juice packaging from 2015. Politicians are so obsessed with flavor bans that they have totally missed the boat. Adults prefer fruit and dessert ejuice, and are the actual target of retro ejuice packaging.
Juul is the biggest player in the vaping market, and their alliance with Altria has been a PR nightmare. Anything they do going forward can be tarred with the Big Tobacco brush. But any actions taken or not taken against Juul should be based on science and not nonsense. Their device clearly appeals to adult vapers.
It is unfortunate that their ally Altria is so eager to promote a flavor ban for short term financial benefit. They should be very cautious about setting the precedent of flavor bans and intrusive federal measures. They may not be able to close Pandora's box
On paper, it may appear to help them establish their position by eliminating competition, which lacks the lobbying prowess and budgets to defend themselves. But there are always unintended consequences, and this same federal wrath could just as easily be turned against them.
Here is a hypothetical question for the Altria's leadership, which supports a flavor ban. In a disastrous scenario where flavors are banned, but teen vaping continues to increase, where do they think regulators and law makers would turn next?
UK and Harm Reduction
Meanwhile, the UK promotes vaping as an alternative to smoking and has a far lower rate of teen eCig use. Is it a coincidence that one area where the UK has more regulation is nicotine levels? They are capped at 2% across the pond. A standard Juul has over twice that level of nicotine.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with nicotine salt ejuice, and higher nic levels may help heavy smokers quit.
But there is no reason to be intentionally obtuse about the appearance of Juul’s more potent nicotine formulations and the subsequent increase in underage vaping.
Small businesses are not the only losers if this bill comes to fruition. We have reached a point where a city like San Francisco proposes total e-cig prohibition, while at the same time embracing harm reduction policies such as needle exchanges and injection clinics.
Vaping makes an easy target because the wealthy have largely given up smoking, and the therefore aren’t in the market for cigarette alternatives. What they are concerned about are their children getting hooked on nicotine, which is understandable, and consider the lives of their children to be more valuable than those of marginalized adult smokers, which is unconscionable.
This explains why alcohol prohibition is never discussed, even though binge drinking among high schoolers is a far greater scourge than nicotine.
Alcohol kills 5,000 teens annually. But drinking rates are the highest among educated, high income adults. So strict new liquor regulations are hardly on the agenda. Or perhaps the failure of prohibition plays a role. Anti-vaping politicians should view the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment and the war on drugs as a cautionary tale.