Vaping Under Siege
It has been a brutal summer and fall for the vaping industry. Concerns about the teen vaping epidemic have buffeted the industry for a couple years but the careless reporting of a vaping related lung illness served as the catalyst for strict flavor bans in a number of states.
For an updated guide to state flavor bans, visit the Vape Ban Laws By State resource page.
Courts have struck down the Michigan flavor ban and the New York flavor ban was blocked in court before implementation. These twin victories did not stop Juul from pulling all of their flavors from the market except tobacco and menthol.
The vaping industry underwent a seismic shift when Juul stopped selling their mint flavor earlier this week. Juul Mint was the most popular product with minors and adults.
Previously, Juul Mango, Cream, Cucumber and Fruit Medley were yanked from the market. Mango was their other top-seller. Despite the popularity of fruit flavored vapes in general, Fruit Medley was widely panned by critics and not sold in anywhere near the same volume.
Juul Mint is also especially popular with adults switching to vaping from smoking, a great example of how strict ecig laws punish marginalized groups.
Strict E-Cig Laws Punish Marginalized
The negative impact of strict vaping laws is made doubly ironic when San Francisco, long viewed as a bastion of LGBTQ+ rights and harm reduction, took the lead with a city wide ecig ban.
The vape ban in Juul's hometown was upheld by a majority of voters in city whose humane approach to IV drug use juxtaposes harshly with a San Francisco vape ban that punishes the marginalized.
The vast majority of San Francisco voters had no misgivings about former smokers being funneled back onto conventional cigarettes or adults being held to a puritanical gold standard of total nicotine abstinence.
The LGBTQ+ community smokes and vapes at greater rate than any other group. Rural areas also suffer disparate health outcomes from smoking, which prompted Iowa AG Thomas Miller to blast last year's FDA regulations.
AG Miller was at it again during this most recent anti-vaping frenzy, warning federal officials that vape bans would lead to a public health calamity.
Trump to Raise Legal Vaping Age to 21
Vapers are still waiting for the other shoe to drop and President Trump has revealed more details on his thoughts about the potential future of vaping in the United States.
As reported by CNBC, President Trump is advocating a legal age of 21 for vaping. This is the law in many states and is a more logical approach than banning the flavors that adult vapers prefer. A study conducted by Dr. Farsalino that surveyed 69,000 adult vapers found that a majority of adult vapers prefer flavored vape juice and fruit flavors are at the top of the list.
The media's constant sleight of hand, listing ejuices with provocative names and no footprint with minors, and then citing stats that combine the minimal sales of these provocative flavors with the popular Juul Mint to create an impressive sum total, are fundamentally dishonest.
Since September, it had appeared that Trump was sold on this narrative, but there is now a glimmer of hope that reason may prevail.
"We’re going to be coming out with a very important position on vaping. We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so, so we’ll be coming out with something next week very important on vaping.”President Donald Trump
The recent obsession with flavors is made even more confusing when you consider that the most fanciful of these flavors are generally low nicotine, high VG ejuices that are consumed in box mods.
Juul Mint was the most popular flavor with minors and former-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb expressed concerns about a situation that was beginning to resemble regulatory capture.
Regulatory capture describes a situation where major industry stakeholders are able to manipulate industry regulation to benefit their interests and eliminate competition. There is a sordid history of this regulatory capture in the US, and thwarting regulatory capture was once a bipartisan issue. Presidents as disparate as Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump have campaigned on eliminating such "barriers to entry".
Trump and Regulations
If Trump’s brief statements are any indication, vaping regulations will move towards age verification and education. This is a reason for guarded optimism. Increasing the legal age and greater educational resources are the same strategies that have been used to slash both alcohol and tobacco use. Nearly all teen high risk behaviors are on the decline.
Harshly regulating the e-cig industry out of business also flies in the face of his economic policies, which are designed to bolster economic growth by promoting deregulation.
As recently as October 21, 2019, President Trump released a statement supporting the reduction of the size, scope and cost of Federal regulations. Destroying thousands of jobs does not correlate with his vision for economic growth.
Vapers also vote and have made it clear that this was an issue that would influence who they support in 2020. A White House sponsored flavor ban could cost him voters in crucial swing states, although in fairness the Democrats have also attempted to punish marginalized smokers with the SAFE Kids ACT.
Referring to the potential flavor ban, President Trump stated:
“We have a lot of people to look at, including jobs, quite frankly. Because, you know, it’s become a pretty big industry.”President Donald Trump
Moving away from a flavor ban and towards a higher minimum age would be a huge victory for adult vapers. Higher nicotine levels and discrete devices have always played a bigger role than flavors.
It is probably too much to ask that the US embrace a policy like the UK, whose National Health Service supports vaping as 95 percent safer than cigarettes and hosts a website “Using E-Cigarettes to Stop Smoking”.
The future of vaping will not be clear until more details are released. But the fact that the White House hinted at a higher legal age appears to be a good sign.
It is impossible to read the tea leaves and determine the exact shape that any new e-cig regulations will take but reportedly Trump has been pressured to reject the fruit flavored fallacy and new industry destroying laws that would do nothing to actually address teen use.
Fruit Flavor Fallacy and E-Cig Marketing
Convincing the layperson, no matter their intentions or education, to resist the fruit flavored fallacy is an uphill battle. Although the fact that so many of these sweet flavors mimic the flavor profiles and naming conventions of Reagan-era cereals and candies should give a pretty big hint about who the target audience is. Retro ejuice flavors target adult vapers.
This leads us to the issue of ecig marketing. Juul learned first hand the dangers of market ecigs on social media. Marketing to Millennials is not marketing to minors. Millennials range from 24 to 39 years of age. They are adults and the recent drop in underage smoking did not impact the bulk of this generational cohort.
The Senate investigation of Juul's marketing has yet to turn up a smoking gun. Common sense dictates that the product was popular with adults because it was so discrete and potent. Unfortunately, these characteristics made it very easy to conceal and the high nic level made it more addictive to minors.
At Vapor4Life, we have no interest in selling to minors and rely on cutting edge age verification. Our goal is to help smokers switch to vaping and for vapers to reduce their nicotine level to zero before quitting vaping as well.
Juul's lack of an off-ramp, it is only available in 2.5 and 5.0% nicotine, contrasts sharply with refillable devices that have a wide array of nicotine strengths. Even disposables, like the Zaero, have four nicotine levels including nicotine free.
Until Juul pulled Mint, it appeared that the next wave of e-cig regulations would leave the most popular flavor with minors on the market and decimate thousands of independent vape shops that sell exclusively to adults. Limiting vape flavors to tobacco would also open the door for the FDA approved iQOS device, a heat and not burn system that uses actual tobacco. With only tobacco ejuices to choose from, a device that uses real tobacco like the iQOS would certainly seem more appealing to a smoker looking to switch to an alternative for the first time.
In September, President Trump announced that there would be a federal flavor ban with the details to be released later. All week there have been rumblings about the details of this ban and an upcoming announcement. Rumors swirled the menthol would be permitted but mint banned, even though in vaping these flavors are almost indistinguishable and often use the same artificial flavor.
Few usable details were revealed when Kellyanne Conway threw shade at “tutti frutti” flavored ejuices and Unicorn Milk. Her cryptic statements also suggested that the FDA does not have jurisdiction over vape shops but would ban flavors at gas stations, a move destined to provoke lawsuits.
What is unclear is why Cuttwood’s high-VG, low nicotine Unicorn Milk is used as a prop in flavor ban discussions. It is primarily enjoyed by box mod users. Box mods are about the most kid-unfriendly device around. They are loud, generate a ton of vapor, thirsty and the size of a service revolver.
If you are a parent concerned about your child vaping, make sure you check out our guide “How to Spot Teen Vaping”. Suffice it to say, it will be a lot easier if they are using a box mod and Unicorn milk, as the crack and gurgle of a box mod is audible through walls.
A Juul device on the other hand is silent, nearly odorless, produces minimal vapor and is easily concealed. If you are curious about what makes a Juul tick and how they changed the vaping game, check out our feature: The Truth and Technology Behind Juul and Nic Salt Revealed.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has been open about apportioning most of the blame for the teen vaping uptick on the San Francisco vaping giant.
If you are looking for alternative to the Juul flavors that are no longer available, check out these resource pages:
Vape Bans and Public Health
The increase in vaping among minors is a legitimate concern but denying adults access is not a solution. In a recent op-ed piece, BU Professor Michael Siegel feared that an ecig ban would spark a public health crisis and endanger the lives of millions.
CDC statistics show that alcohol that remains the primary scourge for minors. Underage drinking kills 4,300 minors annually and sends 130,000 to the emergency room. But as outlined in a Washington Post feature, the wealthy have largely given up smoking and drink more frequently than any other group.
Access to the levers of power is key when it comes to imposing prohibition on people who you never meet or deal with on a personal level.