As the Food and Drug Administration moves to keep electronic cigarettes out of the hands of minors and to better regulate the industry, local vendors and vapers say they view the new rules as the agency bending to the interests of the tobacco industry, which is seeking to cut them out of an increasingly lucrative business.
E-cigarettes use handheld rechargeable batteries to heat liquid contained in the device. The liquid quickly turns to gas resulting in a nicotine-infused vapor that is inhaled like cigarette smoke.
Last week, the FDA announced regulations for e-cigarettes under the federal Tobacco Control Act of 2009, expanding the agency’s authority into what has become an industry business leaders estimate is worth well over $3 billion.
Regulations include prohibiting sales of e-cigarettes to those under the age of 18 and mandating that manufacturers sell products in childproof packaging with warning labels on items and advertisements.
Vendors will also be required to register with the FDA, and products on the market since 2007 must be submitted to the agency for its review to test their safety.
Jennifer Hamilton, community engagement coordinator of Tobacco Free Cortland, said Friday she feels the rule is generally a step in the right direction.
“Shouldn’t we demand to know about a product like an e-cigarette,” she said. “Just knowing the long, long history of the deceit of the tobacco industry, I’m very leery. Lets be informed consumers.”
It’s true that big tobacco companies like Reynolds American and the Altria Group are behind the e-cigarette products on display in TV commercials or behind the counter at gas stations.
However, it is the owners of smaller independent vape shops like Vape Kult at 130 Main St. in downtown Cortland, who say the new rules threaten to put them out of business.
Owner Rich DeChick said no one under age 18 is allowed in his store, and the flavored e-liquid he sells alongside e-cigarette components is in childproof containers.
Plus, what’s in the e-liquid shouldn’t shock the FDA, DeChick said: propylene glycol, a synthetic preservative found in food and medicine; vegetable glycerin, a plant extract commonly used as a sweetener; and concentrated flavoring. There’s also nicotine, but the amount varies from 24 mg per bottle to nicotine-free.
The problem is that to prove it, he will have to send one of each flavor of e-liquid he sells to the FDA for a pre-market analysis. Vape Kult makes and sells over 70 types of liquid and he suspects submitting all that information is not going to be cheap.
DeChick said he heard it might cost him $1,000 per product to comply with the FDA’s demands.
“It’s going to be too costly and it’s going to shut every one of these kinds of shops down,” he said.
The FDA did not have figures available but the agency anticipates compliance with the new rule will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for pre-market testing, and not millions as other reports have suggested.
The FDA states it will also help small business owners do what they can to comply at minimal cost and can even give them up to an additional year to adjust.
Douglas Nolan is co-owner of the Smoker’s Choice smoke shop chain in New York and Pennsylvania. He said Friday he suspects it’s the tobacco lobbyists who will turn out to be the FDA’s largest supporters as the agency rolls out its new rules.
Nolan said he’s seen customers make the switch to e-cigarettes, and that the tobacco industry is not going to risk losing its remaining customer base.
With large fees expected to be attached to sending products for review, small shop owners likely wouldn’t be able to afford to comply with the FDA’s demands, Nolan said. The $35 billion tobacco industry can.
“If they’re going to lose their cigarette business, they’re going to try to corner the vape business,” he said. “They are the ones who can spend $1 million … for every device that has to go through the FDA. It’s going to stop a lot of small companies from making a living.”
There’s a chance vapers can be vindicated. The Royal College of Physicians in Great Britain released a report in April promoting e-cigarettes as a way to help smokers quit tobacco.
The FDA may reach the same conclusion, but there’s a chance some— if not all — of the smaller vape shops may go broke in the process.
Hamilton said if that’s the case, she views it as the cost of ensuring public safety.
“It’s worth it if you can save lives,” she said. “Until we know for certain that the products are safe and can help people quit tobacco, we can’t say they’re safe yet.”
It will be a while before questions all parties have will be answered. The regulations will not take effect until August, and the FDA has said it will take at least two years to complete the pre-market analyses needed to determine which products can stay on shelves.