Houston, we’ve got a problem.
A lot has happened since my last post. Unfortunately, not much of it has been positive. This makes me very sad, since I am a firm believer in the absolute, life-saving benefit of vaping as an option for cigarette smokers.
I have been talking with quite a few people and had been putting my faith in a number of big players – people who had (behind closed doors) pledged both the support and the money necessary to take this fight for vaping to the level it needs to go.
Where are they now? Your guess is as good as mine. They have apparently gone underground, and taken their checkbooks with them. If you are reading this and wondering if it is you who I am referring to, the answer is most likely yes.
So, let’s see where we are otherwise:
- Polling shows that now even more of the general public (including current cigarette smokers) believe that vaping is worse for you than lighting shit on fire and inhaling it. To note – these current smokers are the potential vapers of the future. Their numbers dwarf the population of people who vape today. But each day, they move farther from the point of giving vapor a try. This is mostly due to the continued, coordinated, and well-funded anti-vaping bombardment by public health, and partially due to one particular law firm that has absolutely flooded national press release channels with stories of exploding e-cigarettes in the hopes of netting class action clients. Lawyers, who can conveniently no longer sue cigarette manufacturers thanks to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, are now realizing that vapor products are a whole new potential field full of meandering cash cows. In the couple of months since I first started writing about the importance of the general public, we have actually gone backwards.
- The majority of vape businesses either remain ignorant and isolated, or they are holding back on participating in a truly combined front – perhaps in the hope that they will somehow remain the only business standing in their market. I even had a large retail vapor business owner – one who was very well informed about the coming regulatory challenges – theorizing that if the other shops and manufacturers panicked and closed their doors, all of the customers would have no choice but to come to him. He’s not alone in this. There is an actual business strategy underway that depends on the bad press, advocacy infighting, and regulatory threats to knock off the competition. On second thought, perhaps that answers the question that I started this blog with.
- HR2058 and the Cole-Bishop Amendment both seem to be stuck in quicksand. Despite gaining a total of 65 co-sponsors, HR2058 hasn’t actually budged since it was first submitted to the Health committee thirteen months ago. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives – 218 for a majority. If it took over a year to get 65 co-sponsors, how long will it take before the bill ever sees a vote in the House? Not to mention that passage there only guarantees that it will then start the process over again in the Senate. What are the chances that the industry can survive long enough under the pending FDA regulations for a predicate date change to actually make a difference? I’m beginning to suspect that this option will end up like that time in high school when you finally got the Pinto started only to discover that your date already hitched a ride home with some college guy. And then she would never take your phone calls again.
- Vapor retailers, liquid makers, and device manufacturers are just crossing each day off of their calendars – trying to do business as usual – without fully realizing the nuclear bomb that is whistling out of the clouds above them. There is so much confusion about what specifically is going to happen on August 8th, that no clear guidance has emerged. The consequences of giving bad advice in this situation are so immense, that the leaders are just clearing their throats nervously, kicking pebbles at their feet, and doing the old wait-and-see. How many retail vape shops in California have obtained their local tobacco license? How many understand that they will no longer be able to build coils or change atomizers for a customer? How many are clear on signage, advertising (potentially no internet, email, or social media posts without a 30 day written notification to the FDA for each one?), and store setup requirements? How many liquid manufacturers know that there is only a slightly better chance than none that the companies they buy their flavor bases from will provide ingredient lists, or even register their flavors with the FDA as tobacco products? How many consumers are aware that they don’t just have two years of nothing new before they have to really start worrying…but that by March of next year – just nine months from now – the vast majority of their favorite liquids will most likely be off the shelves?
Avast, thar be sharks here!
As an aside to number 4, I have talked with several labs in the U.S. who are working to reverse engineer the flavoring ingredients used in vape liquids – so they will be able to provide those to the FDA even if the original flavor manufacturers refuse to. Sounds good, right? The ethical challenge is that these labs plan to use this information to (a) strong-arm current liquid brands into paying to stay in business, or (b) wait until your favorite brand goes under and then begin manufacturing their abandoned liquid line to pick up the established customer base. And what about the new army of vape consultants who have emerged from the fog? Primarily failed vaping industry insiders who now travel around and charge for advice on how to survive the coming vapocalypse. The problem? None of them truly believe that it can be done – and it’s no skin off of them if their advice gets you fined, your inventory confiscated, or your business shut down. It’s beginning to look like the whole industry is attracting circling vultures…and unfortunately most of them are coming from within it. A shop owner recently said to me, “Screw it, I’m just going to make as much money as I can in the next two years and move on.”
Ah, so you’re in it to help cigarette smokers, are you?
Overall, I am no longer feeling quite as positive about our chances – especially with the deadlines rumbling forward unabated, and the significant realization that hit me this morning while vaping and waiting for my coffee to brew.
This fight is bigger than I originally thought
I realized that the government can’t allow vaping to survive. I didn’t say won’t – I said can’t. Why? Because vaping didn’t come from them. Now, some of you have already realized this – but remember, I never claimed to be the smartest one in the room! What I do know is that we live in a society managed by a heavy-handed (dare-I-say) big brother – one that believes he knows what’s best for you better than you do. We created that environment though – or our parents did…or our grandparents.
When we (or they) handed the reigns of our governance over to the new career politicians so that we could focus on following our bliss, we planted the seeds of the situation we are currently reaping. And although the challenges this has created in our society are numerous and complicated, the one I am focused on is our right to vape nicotine.
I wrote previously that the vape industry is a grass-roots, consumer-driven response to a massive government failure (is there any other kind?). That failure is two-fold; the failure of all policies, programs, and regulations to do anything meaningful to curtail cigarette smoking, and the failure of a government that has become dependent on money from tobacco, pharmaceutical, healthcare, and media companies.
So on one hand we are fighting against deeply embedded corruption; fueled by cash, dinners, vacations, and prostitutes – gifts from certain industries for certain accommodations. And on the other hand (and this is important), we are fighting against a larger group of well-meaning politicians who would never think of taking money for favors – but who have built their entire careers, lifestyles, and lives on a belief that the collaborative structure of Big Government is able to direct your life in a manner more effectively than you can. And to this group of civil servants, it is unacceptable that the citizens could come up with a solution to something that is both more effective than the government tact, and that didn’t even involve the government to begin with.
Plainly stated, if the people prove that they can effectively solve a problem that the government has failed miserably at for decades – then what message does that send about the need for ever-larger government involvement in everything else? What does it do to those with a core belief that the people need the government to manage their lives?
Oddly, the growth of the vaping industry and its impact on cigarette smoking has highlighted – perhaps better than anything else in modern history – that the effectiveness of government does have a limit…and that we have clearly moved beyond it. The people, you and I, can solve our own problems without the assistance of Washington D.C.
And that is ultimately why vaping must be destroyed. The slippery slope of individual self-determination and self-sufficiency – the realization that we can actually survive and succeed without governmental intrusion – is like kryptonite to career politicians. It makes them weak and unnecessary.
So, we have governmental corruption on one side, a dangerous governmental need to be needed on the other, and vultures within the industry trying to already eat people that aren’t dead yet.
Of course! Over the span of my life I have dealt with numerous business CEOs, and their number one complaint as leaders seems to be, “People always come to me to highlight the problems, but never to suggest solutions.” So I personally developed a habit of always trying to balance one with the other.
As for the larger issue of our government actually overstepping its usefulness, I won’t address that here. That’s an entire series of blogs unto itself. And, to be perfectly honest I really don’t want to get audited, framed, or appear on TMZ with an underage prostitute Photoshopped onto my lap. I’m sure you understand.
Then what is my suggestion for the vaping issue – adjusted for recent events?
It hasn’t changed much from past blogs, since I believe we still have the same crappy public perception issues we started with a couple of months ago. But the sparkle on my positive outlook has definitely faded a bit since being exposed to the odd silences from vaping industry and association leadership on the significant issues, as well as seeing the looting and cannibalization already underway among the vaping business community.
What has changed is that I am narrowing my support down to only two things now; the industry coalition lawsuit against the FDA, and promotion of the film A Billion Lives. I support the consolidated lawsuit because I believe it is the only chance the industry has at this point to delay or stop the complete destruction of quality vaping in the United States before we lose thousands of small businesses and jobs – as well as millions of lives.
And the documentary? Because we still need the general public to see the lies and corruption behind the attack on vaping – and A Billion Lives is already done, it’s amazing, and it’s ready to do just that. Unfortunately, it appears that many of the individuals and companies who have made fortunes on the growth of vaping – fortunes off of you – are hesitant to fund the release of the film or it would have been out already. I’m not sure how much clearer I could have made it in my last couple of blogs.
Perhaps it’ll be be up to us – you and I – the people who just want the ability to keep managing our nicotine without simultaneously killing ourselves.
Ultimately, A Billion Lives may end up being the vape industry’s epitaph; which would be unfortunate. But not nearly as unfortunate as the billion lives that the title refers to.
Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, and coworkers – lost to corruption; lost to career politicians seeking significance; lost to greed. And lost to apathy.
There is still time…but I won’t be able to repeat that for much longer.