This is a difficult article to write for me. As a vape shop owner I know exactly why it is I do what I do, and although I'm not allowed to say it, those reasons are more than enough for me to fight for this industry. However, I can not ignore the issue being caused by irresponsible convenience stores and those who do not see the moral fault in buying for underage users.
In case you’re not aware, there has been a lot of controversy on the uptick in youth vaping over the last year. Certainly, the advent of pod systems has a place in the discussion; as does the fact that vaping is still a growing industry becoming more accepted across the whole of the country. However, my intent is not to argue the why, but discuss how we do our part to help prevent young non-smokers from picking up a nicotine delivery system. Obviously, smoking among youth has been a thing for a very long time. Smoking around the corner of the building was still very much a mainstay when I was in high school. If you tell a kid not to do something, we all know exactly what they want to do next.
So, let’s take a moment to first consider how hot this issue really is, and how serious FDA is about taking action possibly starting at the end of this year. As you may know FDA sent out over eleven hundred warning letters, and 131 citations this summer. They also gave several large pod system manufactures sixty days to show FDA how they were going to address the youth vape problem.
In September, FDA Director Dr. Scott Gottlieb had some very serious words for the vape industry. During an interview on C-Span2 he said that they would be announcing new steps in November to address the youth vaping ‘epidemic’. The options he discussed were the banning of online sales of ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery System) products entirely. The second option would be to announce tougher restriction on sites that sell tobacco products via age gates, and strict penalties for those that let those products reach the hands of underage users. Whilst I don't like the first option, I do understand the reasoning. Many states are not as strict as Texas in age verification legislation unfortunately.
The other scary possibility is the ban of flavored eliquids. Dr. Gottlieb described the two ways this could be achieved. The first would be an outright ban that would then require manufactures to come through the FDA PMTA process in order to come back to market. However, remember that most vape shops make their own house juice, and would be gone forever in that case. The other option is to simply move eliquid under a statute they already have the right to enforce. That would be a part of the “Master Settlement” signed by Big Tobacco back in 1996. This would only allow tobacco and menthol to exist on the market. That could also take place immediately without any need for rule making, public comment, or legislation. He did say he would give a period of time to let product bleed out of the market; but unfortunately, that just means a period of time before many local shops close their doors.
So, why is FDA now on an offensive and getting serious about new upcoming rules? The only reason is that the metrics being shown to congress, parents, teachers, and over the news wire is that vaping is finding its way into kid’s hands. FDA stated that a new study shows an increase in middle school use as well. We should have that exact percentage by December or January. High school use has supposedly risen over 70%, and whilst adult use is also way up that doesn’t justify the youth problem. However, closing the door to vape as an industry after putting no real pressure on anyone else to help with the problem is short sided, and will cause smokers to keep smoking. Again, I would rather see us all help address a legitimate issue, than take away an option for adult smokers/former smokers.
That is why I think we as an industry and as consumers need to do our part to stop youth from getting vape products in their hands. We as store owners need to be vigilant in making sure employees are carding correctly. Schools need to have some real consequences to vaping at school and in class. Right now, nobody is talking about the light punishments being given out to teen vapers caught at school. Parents/Guardians need to also have some responsibility in this. Nobody is complaining about flavored Vodka because it’s assumed that parents/guardians are preventing kids from consuming those libations at home. Talk with your kids if you find they or their friends have a vape products and find out where it came from. Then get someone involved. Convenience stores and online retailers need to be held responsible. The burden can’t be only placed on small ‘Mom & Pop’ shops.
Finally, as consumers we need to be on the look out for underage vapers. If you know someone giving these products to those underage, SAY SOMETHING! If you’re an older sibling, take real responsibility for your actions. Don’t set your younger siblings up for failure. If you’re a teacher, don’t just confiscate the devices. Have a real conversation about alternatives to dealing with school stress. If you make your own eliquid, do NOT give it to underage users. I realize a lot of us know that smoking causes serious and very real health concerns. Maybe you think vaping is safe and isn’t hurting anything. However, whilst FDA has confirmed over and over that nicotine does not cause cancer, they have also pointed out that nicotine in a developing mind is NOT a good thing. Adults should be able to choose what they inhale; but kids need to be protected.
So, lets all do our part as consumers, owners, or simply advocates to make sure that the FDA sees we do care about youth, and we are all trying to do our part. Thanks!