Vaping in the USA – Parallel History

One thing that has dominated the news in the vaping world recently was the goings on over the water in America.  For such a large and financially powerful country, vaping seems to be juxtaposed all over the country.  For a country that is meant to be United, the states have been anything but in recent times.  The story of vaping over there extends far beyond simply a few months with the role of the heroes being played by its citizens and the villains of the story being largely the FDA.  Both have played their roles very well in a tale that shows that power is not always absolute and the lengths that the bad guy will go to is always lower than you would think.  I am getting ahead of myself, rather than start at the end, let’s go back to the beginning, 10 years ago in fact to the real birth of the vaping market.

The Court Case

2009 was a year in which vaping will be known as finally entering the public domain, albeit at such a small impact.  Vaping had been invented way back in China in 2002 but it took a further 7 years really for the first mass produced products to reach the western world. They did enter the market in 2006-7 but then how many of you knew of their existence then, let alone considered making the switch?  Certainly the market had moved on considerably in the following 2 years.   If you are one of those early adopters, that may be a trip down memory lane but for the purpose of this story, it is the beginning on what has been a 10 year war on vaping.

In 2009, Vaping also entered the USA market as well on a much bigger scale than previously.  Now consider that E Cigarettes back then were an unknown quantity, we didn’t have the research that we do now so essentially a new smoking style device that no-one knew anything about suddenly came onto the market.  So in march 2009, the FDA decided to ban the import of such devices basing on an unapproved drug delivery system, which at the time it was exactly that.  This revolved around a company called Smoke Everywhere who were informed their products imported were to be blocked at the docks and seized.  What followed was a legal battle from Smoke Everywhere followed by NJOY to fight the restriction being placed on their products.  Tests were done, back and forth motions were made and finally, in December 2010, it was ruled that the FDA had to treat E Cigarettes as a tobacco based product which was then adhered to by the FDA in April 2011.

So the fight for vaping isn’t a new thing, it started 10 years ago in a court of law, by a company most of us have never heard of.  The foundation to the American Vaping industry was set however.

2009 Leftovers

If you really want to look for the root of what is happening now, then 10 years ago is still the place to start.  Far more than a simple court case happened and perhaps you can start to see little connections to modern day.  For starters, as small as it was, NJOY pulled all their flavours apart from menthol and nicotine from the American market in 2009.  Does that sound familiar to you?  Didn’t another company in the past 12 months announce the same in America?  JUUL is the correct answer there, however the reason why NJOY pulled their products is quite interesting indeed.

In June 2009, President Obama signed into law the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco control Act which gave the FDA power to regulate the tobacco industry.  On the surface that probably means nothing to you and perhaps not, until you look at what that entailed.  For you see, it stopped tobacco being banned outright in America but it did look to enforce something else, flavours such as fruit and mint.  Yes, back in June 2009, the flavour ban was born and handed over to the FDA to enforce.  This at that point in time wasn’t directed at vaping but given what is going on now, you can see there is a pattern in the American way of thinking.

Similarly in September 2009, California, the tobacco income dependant state passed a bill, which was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger looking to ban the sales of E Cigarettes.  Now the governor was right in vetoing it, giving the reason essentially of grown ups should be able to make their own choice.  However again you are going back 10 years to see the basis of a ban that took them 10 years to put into place.  As much as the blame is targeted at JUUL again, California had been trying to ban E Cigarettes for a lot longer than even PAX had existed which shows that their motivation is and has never been driven by the reasoning that really have only existed on a wide scale in the past 3 years.

Another interesting story this year was in July 2009 when the FDA released a press release warning people of the dangers of vaping, following 2 months of testing.  What wasn’t revealed at the time was how vaping was deemed to be safe, noting that carcinogen were similar to approved FDA approved NRT products and that the level of diethylene glycol was both non toxic or exposed in the vapour to begin with.  The reason why this story carries more weight was the motivation behind the press release, the FDA were warning about the danger of marketing vaping in youth of America.  So yes, the argument you hear today began much like everything else, 10 years ago.

Finally in 2009 we saw another long running issue begin with both Amazon banning sales of E cigarettes on its platform and this was followed by Pay Pal suspending accounts that were used in the buying/selling of them.  So like all the rest, these issues stem back far earlier than most people realise, all based on the fear of E Cigarettes.

 

2013 and the first public fight against America

Now in 2011 there was a petition signed by 5000 people sent to the White House in regards to vaping that didn’t scratch the surface of anyone’s interest, after all the low number was barely anything.  However in January 2013, there was something more significant in the fight for vaping in America.  Another petition was started to stop the FDA from regulating or banning the sale of E Cigarettes and this time the threshold was 25 000 signatures.  Now I know what you are thinking, what importance does this have?  Well it wasn’t who signed it at this point, it was who backed it, the CASAA (Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association).  They encouraged people to sign the petition to get it to the White House and get it raised.  It took a year to get a response and the general reaction was non responsive to it but it did mean one thing.  An Anti smoking group had put its weight behind a campaign FOR E Cigarettes rather than these days where they normally oppose it.  It was here that the fight for vaping started getting support from places that had never backed it before, which started the legitimising of vaping as a way to quit smoking. Later that year they gave a presentation to the FDA in regards to supporting vaping, which again may not have gained momentum but it was a voice speaking out for the vapers in the country.

The Movements of Altria

Another major factor in vaping in America has come in the form of Altria, one of the tobacco giants of the industry.  You may have heard the name and later on this will all make sense, but for the time being let’s look at where they began.  In October 2013, Altria sent a letter to the FDA essentially supporting their movement in the banning of unregulated tobacco products, namely aimed at E Cigarettes.  So straight away Altria saw vaping as a threat to their business going back 6 years ago and threw their support behind the FDA.  Strange no?

More strange was what followed the following year, when Altria announced that they were releasing its MarkTen vaping product to the market, the complete opposite of what they first intended by backing the FDA.  Altria could see the future and had started to make plans to profit from it, especially when other tobacco companies had their sights set on the heat-less tobacco products that are finally seeing the light of day in the industry.  What they didn’t see coming was another rival to their attempt to take the vaping industry, one that changed the way vaping was perceived in America.

 

The Middle Years

Ahh yes, not much actually happened in the next couple of years after that.  We had the birth of JUUL and all the advertising to kids that has fuelled a lot of propaganda ever since being the only real talking point.  At the time it kinda went unnoticed, as JUUL took more of the market and it became a meme of sorts, more people took notice and led us to the present day.  Apart from that, the only real highlight was Phillip Morris announcing the heat not burn IQOS that is trying to force itself into the market.  What was interesting was Altria announced they would have exclusive rights to market the product in the USA.  Altria again, almost like the pantomime villains of the story cropping up every now and again across history like a bad video game mini boss. Other than that there were reports, hearings, the usual stuff that happens on a regular basis and vaping didn’t really suffer in this time.  It grew and grew , from vape shows to youtubers, companies to public awareness.  Vaping started to take over and smokers were making the switch at a more alarming rate than any of the tobacco giants had envisioned.  It was a good time, however things were soon to change and this is where the story starts to become full circle.

 

The Evolution of JUUL

In 2018, JUUL had a VERY significant year in terms of the vaping industry over in the states that created shock waves felt even today.  In November 2018 they announced that they held a massive 71% market share of the vaping market as they had captured the market that all the big manufacturers had failed to take notice of, the causal vapers.  Consider this, when you see vaping online, what do you picture?  What type of person do you imagine in a promo pic?  Exactly.  JUUL managed to capture the everyday smoker wanting to make the switch and the company was massive by the end of last year.  More was yet to come as 2 months later JUUL had announced that they had sold a 35% stake into the company for marketing purposes, the lucky winner of such an opportunity? Altra.

That is right, the company that began this history lesson opposing vaping bought a third of the company, in other words the biggest vaping company in America, poised to attempt a worldwide takeover was 35% owned by a tobacco giant.  Many people guessed at what the motives were but that part was yet to come.  For now, JUUL were riding high on their success and this spread into 2019 also.  They even announced they were adhering to the FDA demands and pulling the flavours from the retail market, locking them behind an age wall on their website.  Only tobacco and mint would be available to buy in store to work with the FDA on the youth crisis as it was being labelled. Does this sound familiar?  That is exactly what NJOY did back in 2009 under similar motivation to work with the FDA.

History repeating itself it seems, over a 10 year period, quite the coincidence don’t you think?  It happened in 2009 and again in 2019, almost like the true motives were being hidden from the public domain, in order to keep selling products.  Would you believe, the coincidences don’t stop there?

The Court Case 2

10 years apart, another court case triggered a change in the vaping industry in America but this time for the worse.  Arguably the most significant point that led us to here as it started a chain reaction in such a short space of time.  I am getting ahead of myself so lets look at the story first.

A case came to court from anti smoking groups aimed at bringing the application deadline down to 4 months from what it originally was back in 2016.  The FDA were tasked with regulating the E cigarette industry in 2016 under the Obama Administration but when Trump came into office, they pushed the application deadline back to 2022.  What the application process is, essentially is the time a company has to register their products as legal to sell in the country.  Much like the TPD changes that happened in the EU, this was a necessary process that had a fair time frame.  That is, until this court case happened.

In July 2019, the judge ruled that the deadline should be brought forward from 3 years, to 10 months, essentially crippling the new vaping product industry and significantly handicapping the existing ones.  The time frame was almost impossible to adhere to unless you had millions of dollars spare, which most companies didn’t.  What this ruling did was give credit legally to all of the anti vaping propaganda that was swamping the media across the country.  The judge was quoted in saying;

“Given the uncertainty in the efficacy of e-cigarettes as smoking cessation devices, the overstated effects that a shorter deadline may have on manufacturers, the industry’s recalcitrance, the continued availability of e-cigarettes and their acknowledged appeal to youth, and the clear public health emergency, I find that a deadline is necessary,”

The rise of the vaping crisis with youth was growing month by month and this ruling merely cemented it as a motivation for anti vaping lobbyists to pursue as much damaging regulation as they possibly could.  The biggest telling point for this however came not from what happened but what didn’t happen.  This ruling went against the FDA in a big way, after all it was them that set the deadline in the first place.  Their response to this over ruling was simple, they supported it.  No fight back, no appeal, they backed the decision almost like they were happy with that result.

 

The Spark

Moving into more recent times and the parallel history does not stop there, starting with a trigger point, and eventual revisit of what looks now to be a very significant point in history glossed over by a nation.

Now the trigger point came from the worldwide news that seemed to rise out of nowhere essentially, vaping kills.  In August 2019, stories started to break out that people were actually dying as a cause of vaping.  The story seemed to spread to different states and the death toll grew into the hundreds, which also dropped as the news spread like wildfire.  Despite the countless research worldwide, years of years of scrutiny and most importantly despite The Public Health of England ruling otherwise, vaping was actually killing people.  The propaganda for years was coming true, everything thrown against the vaping industry was coming true, the anti vaping lobbyists were right all along….or were they?  After the story had moved on, it was discovered that the cause of the sudden outbreak of deaths was in fact as much to do with vaping as a cup of coffee poisoning its drinker.  The contents of the ‘vaping’ pods were found to have oils, vitamin E and many other non vaping ingredients that are not found in your standard E liquid.  What is worth mentioning at this point, as soon as the news spread, the deaths stopped just as quick as they started.  3 months now and barely a mention of it any more, odd no?

The Flavour Ban

So the flavour ban was born around the country as a reactive measure and now, the repeating circles are starting to form together in America.  The spark for this came from President Trump launching an investigation into flavoured E Cigarettes to combat the rise in youth in America in using such devices.  This created a ripple effect around the country as more and more states started to introduce their flavour bans, E Cigarette bans and looking to tax far more than ever before.  As of writing now, Massachusetts have passed a flavour ban in their state and New York have approved a ban there also.   The ripple is starting to spread but the true motive can be sourced all the way back to 2009 again, with Barack Obama.  Cast your mind back to the act that Obama passed which handed regulatory control of tobacco products to the FDA.  What was the motive behind that 10 years earlier?  Yes, flavours.  The FDA had the power to ban flavours since 2016 and held off doing so, and now the states are doing it for them.

Trump has since backed down from investigating the banning of flavours but it is fair to say the fuse has already been lit across the country, serving the FDA’s wishes without them having to lift a finger.  That, my friend could be perceived as a win for them.  After all, in the space of three months they have everything they wanted delivered to them without them having to lift a finger, especially given when Trump first announced the flavour ban intention, alongside him and the first lady was the FDA commissioner Ned Sharpless

 

True Motives of Altria

Now we couldn’t end this piece without the pantomime villains showing up one final time could we?  Given that the FDA had won their battle against vaping, Altria have been determined to make their own impact in this history tale one final time and it comes from the fallout of the recent events.  Given the sudden rise in profile of the youth vaping epidemic coming from the white House, much of the flack was directed towards JUUL.  After all, they had been accused of marketing to kids via third party social media influencers a couple of years earlier and they had become the face of vaping in America.  So it is natural to assume business in a political sense wasn’t going so well for JUUL recently, so they made a very bold choice in a change of direction.  Kevin Burns (originally from PAX Labs) stepped down, either by choice or by force, that is unknown but he left a huge gap at the top of the JUUL management ladder, soon to be filled by a man named K.C Crosthwaite.  That name may not ring a bell but his job may do, as he was the chief growth officer at…..Altria.  So ladies and Gentleman, we can wrap this up with a tale of a long play from the tobacco group and possibly a significant step for the future.  6 years after supporting the FDA in regulating the vaping industry, 6 years of seeing tobacco profits plummet as more people quit, they suddenly had control of the biggest vaping company in America.  What does this mean for JUUL and the vaping industry in America is unclear as of right now, but if a tobacco company wanted to continue to grow amidst plummeting profit, this was the perfect way to do it, 12 months of waiting before taking the chance to.  Altria control a company who owns at least 70% of the vaping market in America, let that sink in for a moment, especially after the failure of their own product all those years earlier.

Final Thoughts

So there we have it folks, we have come to the end of this colourful history of vaping in America.  What can we take away from this?  Well anything you want really but for me the significance is not what happened, but the parallel lines running over 10 years.  The same motivations, the same rulings and same opinions have flowed through this industry since day one just under a different name each time.  Next time you think the flavour ban is a knee jerk reaction, cast your mind back to Obama.  Next time you think JUUL triggered the youth in America fear, think of the FDA decision whilst vaping was still an unknown quantity.  Next time you think that the fight for vaping is a last chance saloon deal, others have been fighting the case for a lot longer.

Truth is, where we are now has been 10 years in the making, you simply need to look back long enough to know that the parallel lines have been flowing all this time.

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