Vaporizer culture has grown from a niche activity to a worldwide phenomenon. The Center for Disease and Control reported that over nine million adults in the United States use electronic cigarettes or vapor products on a regular basis. Users range from college freshmen to retirees. The Reasons for using the device vary from recreational use to seeking smoking alternatives for lifelong smokers.
“I’ve gotten people off of cigarettes that have smoked for 35 years. There’s a woman who had been smoking three packs a day. That’s what she did. She would go on her porch and smoke cigarettes.” said Taylor Upchurch, owner of Cloud 9 LLC Vapor Company. “Now she vapes. She vapes a crap ton, but she vapes instead. She’s seven months smoke-free now and that happens every day. It’s happened every day for the past year.”
In August, changes pushed largely by big tobacco lobbyists will require vaping products to be sent through an application process known as the Premarket Tobacco Application (PMTA). According to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the process can take up to 1,500 hours per product. Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, says the application is also expected to cost several hundred thousand dollars per product. The rule changes can be found on fda.gov on the Tobacco Products tab by selecting “New Regulations for Tobacco Products.” Thus page contains a link that will allow you to view the rule change in its entirety.
“The casing, the boards, each of them would have to be sent through an application process,” said Upchurch. “The cotton, the battery, and even liquid products with no nicotine in them at all, are now considered a tobacco product.”
As a whole, the vaporizer industry has been handled without much regulation. Given the amount of startups within the industry, undoubtedly some regulation would help bring stability and standards to it. Rather, the vaporizer community has been hit with highly restrictive changes.
“In May of 2016 we were told no new products could come to market,” said Upchurch. “Products made before 2002 were grandfathered in, but virtually none of those products are actually used on the market today. We knew regulation was coming; we wanted it to an extent.”
New regulation could have acted as a means to legitimize the DIY-portion of the community.
“There’s guys out there selling e-liquid online that they made themselves and there’s no way to know what they really put in it,” said Upchurch. “There need to be labels on your juice that say ‘keep away from your children.’”
For the last six months to a year, any products shipped into the country not authorized under the PMTA are held by customs. As a direct impact, the retail shops are having much harder times with stocking new e-liquid flavors, batteries, and most any other product associated with vaping.
“We started to see it as a retail store in the last three months,” said Upchurch. “There are products that I cannot find. The ones that I can find I have to stock up on as much as possible. There are coils being shipped from China that are labeled as containing nicotine. It’s a piece of metal.”
One aspect that especially concerns Upchurch is that some vape stores may have no idea what is on the horizon for their industry.
“Your average person isn’t going to read an entire bill so you have to go by hearsay,” said Upchurch. “If you go to the FDA webinars on tobacco products, they’re answering the same questions over and over. It’s horrible. You’re sitting there trying to get information because this is your livelihood.”
Upchurch, in addition to owning Cloud 9, is the secretary for the Mississippi Vaping Advocacy Association (MSVAA.org). MSVAA was founded in April of 2016. The organization’s aim is to better inform the public about what they perceive as health benefits of vaping over smoking. The website makes a point to state that their information should not be taken over that of a medical physician, but if traditional methods do not work for you then try reaching out for alternative aids.
“A study reported that vaping was 95 percent healthier than smoking a cigarette,” said Upchurch. “It was later revealed that it was 97 percent, but they did not want to release such a high number out of concern that those who did not smoke or vape would start.”
The study Upchurch mentioned is an “expert independent evidence review” published by Public Health England. The key findings included the statistic that vaping is estimated to be 95 percent less harmful, that 44 percent of the population does not know e-cigarettes are much less harmful, and that during this study no evidence was found to support the claim that e-cigarettes act as a gateway into smoking for children and nonsmokers.
Smoking-related health expenses total nearly $300 billion according to the Center for Disease and Control. For any industry, that is a massive amount of revenue. Upchurch and many others see that as clear incentive for lobbyists to derail the vapor wave.
“In a study that found formaldehyde in the vapor, they later came back and said they were sorry and that they had not studied the chemical enough,” said Upchurch. “What they did was they hooked the vaporizer up to a machine that continuously pulled on it. It burned all the components and formed formaldehyde.”
In the 1990s a study found that factory workers were inhaling large amounts of diacetyl, a chemical used to give food flavorings a buttery flavor, and contracting a form of bronchitis known as pop-corn lung. There has been no proven link between the form of bronchitis and diacetyl. The FDA has estimated diacetyl’s no-adverse-effect amount at .3mg.
Media outlets such as Independent and Vice have voiced concerns over the chemical because the long-term effects of vaping diacetyl have not been well documented. Regardless, companies such as Virgin Vapor, Halo Cigs, DirectVapor, and MT. Baker Vapor E-Liquids have all moved to diacetyl-free formulas for their e-liquids.
“We think that it is important to combat [these] reports that paint the e-cig industry in a negative light with positive information about companies that are self-regulating and making sure they are producing e-juice that is clean, 100% free of diacetyl,” said VaporFi in a released statement.
“The amount of Diacetyl found in e-liquids is trace,” said Upchurch. “And the flavor industry is working to remove any usage of that chemical.”
As with most industries that combine recreation and health—most prominently the marijuana movement—there is great dispute over the validity of beneficial claims. Concerns have been raised regarding unstable batteries from cheap manufacturers, the safety of vaping at high temperatures, and the chemical makeup of e-liquid. On the other hand, there are countless stories of lifelong smokers freeing themselves of the habit through vaporizing. The American Journal of Preventative Medicine (AJPM) released statistics backing up this claim. According to AJPM, 31 percent of those who tried e-cigs were still not smoking after six months. Of those who stayed off for six months, 34.3 percent were using nicotine-free e-liquid. To learn more about recent studies and issues the industry is currently facing, visit msvaa.org or the American Vaping Association website vaping.org.