‘We’re screwed:’ Vaping industry panics after Trump ban on flavored e-cigarettes

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The vape industry used to view May 2020 as a time of reckoning: it’s when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would require applications for any flavored e-liquid, with products taken off the market until they gained approval.

But nothing prepared makers and fans of e-cigarettes for the events of Wednesday, when President Donald Trump dropped the gauntlet some eight months early by announcing his administration would ban flavored e-cigarettes.

“I said ‘oh shit, is this for real?” Jai Gyorfi, better known as ‘Jai Haze’ on YouTube, said of learning of the e-cigarette flavor ban, which takes effect within a matter of weeks. Haze, who runs a vape shop in New Jersey, has nearly 170,000 subscribers on his vaping-oriented YouTube channel. After the announcement, a bewildered Gyorfi hosted a livestream with nearly 2,000 viewers who were blindsided by the news.

Upon digging more into the President’s comments on it at the White House Wednesday, Gyorfi expressed shock and frustration.

“I watched [the President talking about] vaping is epidemic, and how all these people are dying,” Gyorfi told Digital Trends. “No offense to the President, but it’s a very uneducated comment. People are dying yes, but not from vaping flavors.”

The ban, which is expected to take effect within months according to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, comes amid a flurry of health issues connected to vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been investigating a mysterious vaping-related lung disease that has left at least six people dead. The CDC has identified more than 450 instances of the illness in 33 states.

Gyorfi was also surprised that Trump would threaten the existence of an entire industry with the stroke of a pen considering his typically pro-business stance.

“It’s a way bigger picture than just ‘hey, let’s do this, or remove this,’ because then that closes businesses,” Gyorfi said. And Gyorfi isn’t wrong, either. When Pennsylvania moved in 2016 to tax e-cigarette products at 40%, only the largest vape shops survived — with smaller shops closing en masse within months of the announcement.

“We were already battling online retail prices, and that was hard enough,” former Lancaster, Pennsylvania vape shop owner Jason Dellen told Digital Trends. Dellen’s location was one of the area’s busiest vape shops, but even popularity wasn’t enough to keep him in business.

“They effectively wanted me to hand over 40% of my company on day one, with a smile,” he said. “Like many others, I made the tough decision to liquidate inventory and close up shop the day before the tax went into effect.”

Trump’s ban would be far worse for the industry and vape fans in general.

Renewed push for e-cigarette flavor bans

But Pennsylvania’s law wasn’t about stopping the sale, just taxing it. These new efforts are different. New York and New Jersey had already attempted to ban e-cigarette flavors and failed, with the only successful bans passing locally. But that’s changing: Michigan recently enacted a ban, and it appears as if New York and New Jersey are aiming to try again.

Trump, like officials in Michigan, said the ban was an attempt to stop teens and children from vaping by eliminating kid-friendly flavors. Health Secretary Azar said Wednesday that about 5 million children in the U.S. use e-cigarettes.

Gyorfi and others think is too narrow a view. They argue that punishing everyone has wide-ranging consequences.

“We’re at a point now where the President’s involved, and no one thought it would get this far,” Gyorfi said. “For lack of better terms and the most polite way to say it we’re screwed. This is bad.” He talked about his own business’s future, but said it was cruel to take away what he said was an effective way to quit traditional cigarette smoking.

“I had a guy that was 83 years old [in my shop],” Gyorfi said. “He quit smoking from vaping. To say it doesn’t work? Come on. Take that away, and they’ll go right back. It’s common sense.”

He argued pod systems like Juul bear some responsibility for the new push to regulate vaping, as they as so small that teens can easily hide them from their parents.

Some e-cigarette regulation is needed

While public health officials point to the lack of regulation as one of the biggest problems with vaping, many inside the industry are not scared of it. Some industry groups like the Vapor Technology Association do concede that regulation is unavoidable, but argues it should be done in such a way that acknowledges it’s effective in helping people quit. On Wednesday, the group pointed that out in a statement.

Banning flavors would be a public health travesty.  More than two million Americans have died from cigarette smoking related illnesses over the last five years. If a federal flavor ban is enacted, more than 10 million adults will be forced to choose between smoking again, something the FDA has said will happen if vapor products are pulled from the market), or finding what they want and need on the black market.

The industry could survive with some regulation, and some is necessary, Gyorfi argued. “There are a lot of juice companies,” he said, referring to the e-liquid inside vape cartridges that provide flavor.

“I do believe that the government should ask ‘what’s in these [juices], are these okay to vape, what kind of research do we have.'” He also thought that the industry might be able to compromise on a system of testing similar to what cannabis companies go through to ensure their products are safe.

“I think that’s fair, very fair,” Gyorfi said. “Don’t just strip it from everybody that it’s worked for.”

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