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The US Vape Shop Owners React to Flavoured Pod Ban

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On 2 January, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a ban on pre-filled e-cigarette cartridges and pods in flavours other than tobacco and menthol. The ban was a compromise that President Donald Trump hoped would satisfy concerned parents without shutting down the entire American vaping industry. While the ban affects pre-filled cartridges and pods, flavoured e-liquids sold by the bottle for use in open vaping systems may remain on the market pending the May 2020 deadline for pre-market application submissions.

The flavoured pod ban primarily affects the JUUL brand, which controls more than 70 percent of the American e-cigarette market in traditional retail outlets. In this article, we’ll examine how vape shop owners feel about the ban. Before we discuss that, though, let’s learn more about why America is banning flavoured e-liquid pods.

U.S. Flavoured Pod Ban: Background

Surveys have shown that there are now millions of underage vapers in the United States. In those surveys, teens have overwhelmingly stated that they use the JUUL e-cigarette brand. When asked why they vape, those same teens have said that they do it because they enjoy sweet e-liquid flavours such as mango and mint.

While it’s clear that flavoured e-liquids appeal to children, they also appeal to adults. Everyone, after all, likes flavours. A 2018 study published in Harm Reduction Journal clearly shows that the availability of appealing e-liquid flavours helps adult smokers transition to vaping and quit smoking successfully.

In September 2019, President Trump proposed an industry-wide ban of all e-liquid flavours except tobacco. His supporters across the country – millions of whom are former smokers who now vape – protested loudly, saying that they would not support Trump in the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election if the flavour ban proceeded as planned. The exemption for bottled e-liquids in the flavour ban is an attempt to make vaping less appealing to minors while ensuring that adults will still have access to the products that they use. While minors typically use closed vaping systems, adults primarily use higher-performance vaping devices with refillable tanks.

How Do Vape Shop Owners Feel About the Flavoured Pod Ban?

Vape shop owners across the United States have spoken out about the ban on flavoured e-cigarette pods and cartridges, and their reactions have generally been positive. Kentucky television station WKBO spoke with local vape shop owner Joshua Lavigne about the ban. Lavigne said that he was in favour of the ban because it allowed him to stay in business and may help to reduce teen access to vaping products. Tempe vape shop owner Andrew Bird echoed those sentiments in a statement to Fox 10 Phoenix, saying that the ban “starts to weed out those that are just in it for the money.”

We spoke with Pittsburgh vape shop owner Bradley Anderson of Vapor Connection LLC regarding the flavoured pod ban. Anderson agreed that the ban benefits brick-and-mortar vape shop owners, saying that pod systems have never been a major part of his business. On the contrary, the ban could actually benefit local vape shops by encouraging adult vapers who currently use closed-system devices to stop buying their pods at convenience stores and begin exploring the greater variety of flavours that bottled e-liquids have to offer.

What’s Next for the U.S. Vaping Industry?

While a ban on any type of vaping product isn’t an ideal outcome for professionals in the U.S. vaping industry, the ban has allowed most U.S. vape shop owners to breathe sighs of relief because a partial ban on closed-system products is far preferable to the ban on all flavoured e-liquids originally proposed by President Trump, which would have decimated the entire industry. Bottled e-liquids comprise the majority of a typical U.S. vape shop’s sales. People can buy pre-filled e-cigarette pods and cartridges from supermarkets, convenience stores and gas stations, so they typically do that instead of going to vape shops.

The flavoured pod ban, in other words, isn’t going to hurt the average American vape shop. As mentioned above, it may actually help many vape shops. However, the U.S. vaping industry still faces a far greater existential threat. When the FDA announced its intention in 2016 to begin regulating e-cigarettes as tobacco products, the announcement meant that all product manufacturers in the vaping industry would need to submit premarket tobacco product applications (PMTAs) to the FDA in order to keep those products on the market.

In order for a PMTA to receive approval from the FDA, the application must demonstrate that the product discussed in the application will present a benefit to public health, that those who do not already use nicotine will not want to buy it and that the product will not encourage people to smoke. Every vaping product on the American market – including every flavour and every nicotine strength from every e-liquid maker – must have a PMTA on file with the FDA by May 2020. Manufacturers that fail to comply will have their products removed from the market.

As of January 2020, only one vaping product manufacturer has submitted a PMTA to the FDA. That manufacturer is Vuse. The owner of Vuse is Reynolds American, the second largest tobacco company in the United States.

A typical PMTA – for a single product – is many thousands of pages long and can cost more than $450,000 to compile. For most small businesses in the American vaping industry – even e-liquid makers with very modest product selections – the PMTA process will likely prove too costly and burdensome to complete. Industry observers widely predict that most American e-liquid makers will close permanently by May 2020.

Vaping hardware is also subject to the FDA’s PMTA requirements. Products such as mods, tanks and coils will all require applications to be on file with the FDA by May 2020. Virtually all vaping hardware comes from factories in Shenzhen, China, and the companies producing those products earn far less revenue than you might think. Most of the vaping devices and accessories on the market will not have applications on file with the FDA by May.

Will FDA Regulations Sink the American Vaping Industry?

In short, most of the American vaping industry could disappear in a few months. Keeping bottled e-liquids on the market for now only prolongs an inevitable fate for most vaping product manufacturers in the United States; compiling and submitting premarket applications for e-liquids and other vaping products is impossible for virtually all vaping brands that don’t receive funding from Big Tobacco.

At this point, President Trump is likely the greatest hope for the future of the American vaping industry. Millions of vapers across the country have made it clear that they intend to vote against the incumbent president – regardless of their party affiliations – if his administration takes away their right to vape. Will we remember May 2020 as the month in which government meddling decimated thousands of small businesses and put tens of thousands of people out of work? The entire industry awaits the answer to that question.

Jason Artman
Jason Artman is the owner and author of eCig One. A full-time freelance writer for more than a decade, Jason’s clients have included corporations such as Intel and eBay. Jason’s online articles have been viewed hundreds of millions of times. After quitting smoking and switching to vaping in 2010, Jason turned his professional attention to the vaping industry and now works with some of the world’s largest vaping and CBD brands. When writing for his own website, Jason focuses his attention on helping business owners with their vape marketing efforts.

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