E-cigarettes a booming business

Could FDA rules make $4B vaping industry go up in smoke?

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It’s all a matter of taste for young vapers.

“Our most popular flavors are the candies overall,” said Tucker Williams, manager of Kick Ash Vapor Lounge in Wilson.

The Raleigh Road Parkway store has more than 200 flavors of e-juice for e-vapor electronic cigarettes.

For many cigarette smokers hoping to leave their nicotine habit behind, e-cigarettes have become a solution.

E-cigarettes were invented in China in 2003 and first marketed in the United States in 2006.

The first versions, now regarded as “cigalikes,” were made to imitate the look of actual tobacco cigarettes. Nicotine is delivered to the user by way of a cartomizer or a clearomizer, powered by a small battery.

E-cigarettes have become much more complex with the introduction of e-vapor systems using liquids, which offer the customer a wider variety of flavors and a range of nicotine levels.

“People are just sick of the traditional cigarettes. People are just amazed at how many flavors we have to choose from,” Williams said. “Most of our customers use them for quitting smoking. All of us on our staff used it to quit smoking.

I have seen some cases where people are using it to cut back on eating sweets.”

Not surprisingly, the popular tastes for the younger generation are strawberry and blueberry.

But the older vapers are still clinging to those traditional tobacco flavors.

“Older people like tobacco flavors, or whatever they were smoking in their smoking days. They like to stick to that,” said Alissia Turner, manager at Vapor Plus on Forest Hills Road in Wilson.

“We have a very big variety of menthols,” said Williams. “We’ve got strawberry watermelon. We’ve got fruity menthols. A bunch of different stuff.”

“Wilson is just now grabbing onto it. It’s still not as big as it is in Rocky Mount,” said Williams. “The consumer’s a little bit different in Wilson.”

Between two stores in Rocky Mount and Wilson, Williams said he has about 900 customers buying vaping supplies.

“They’ve become pretty popular around here in Wilson,” said Turner.

Vaping, Turner said, is “definitely a lifestyle choice.”

Vapers have started to attend “cloud competitions.”

“That’s just to see who can blow the furthest and thickest cloud,” said Williams.

Most vapers can blow a vapor trail about 6 or 7 feet.

“Our board goes up to 10 feet.” Williams said. “Not many people reach that, though.”

“I’m average,” Turner said. “I never really got into it much, but I enjoy watching.”

According to Turner, it takes about $150 to get started in vaping, which includes a mod, tank, batteries and a charger.

But you also have to buy the “e-juice” flavors that are vaporized through the device, inhaled through the lungs and exhaled.

The containers come in 15, 30 and 60-milliliter bottles. An average 30-milliliter bottle costs about $20.

The flavored liquids contain a small amount of nicotine, from 0 percent to 1.8 percent.

For smokers who want to change over to vaping, Williams and Turner like to start them off on a .3 percent juice.

“For most people I tell them to start with a .3 because .3 is right before 0,” said Williams. “If they get to .3 and it is not enough for them, they can always go up the next time they need juice, because if they get to .6 and it’s too strong, they are not going to be able to vape it. It is just going to be wasted money down the drain. Most of the time, we get people to start with a lower nicotine because obviously the less nicotine that you are consuming, the better for you. You can start with lower nicotine and if it’s not enough, then you can go up.”

According to Turner, the average vaper uses between 30 to 60 milliliters of juice a week.

“It really depends on the device that they are using,” said Williams. “A lot of the bigger, stronger devices use a lot more juice than the smaller ones, so it really just depends on what the people are using.”

According to Darryl Jayson, chief operating officer for the Tobacco Merchants’ Association, the electronic cigarette and vaping industry has grown worldwide from $195 million five years ago to $4.1 billion in 2016.

“There is a big roadblock, and that is called FDA regulation,” Jayson said.

On Aug. 8, 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products issued new regulations affecting e-cigarettes, vapor devices and the liquids used in them.

The nicotine in e-cigarettes and liquids is derived from tobacco.

The FDA describes these new products as electronic nicotine delivery systems, or ENDS. The ENDS products are required to carry nicotine warning labels similar to conventional tobacco cigarettes.

Any product that was introduced after Feb. 15, 2007 is considered a new product by the FDA and its makers have to submit a pre-market tobacco application.

“All these e-vapor products were introduced after Feb. 15, 2007, so they are all considered new products,” Jayson said.

The application due date is Aug. 8, 2018.

“It has scared a lot of manufacturers to say, ‘Well, I’m going to wait until these reports are due and then pull the products off the market,’” Jayson said. “If you have filed your report, even though you haven’t gotten approval, you can continue to sell your product in the market.”

So manufacturers who want to follow this route still have about a year and a half of selling.

Cost of the application ranges from $117,000 to $466,000, according to the FDA.

Smaller companies may have difficulty producing the exhaustive and expensive reports, which are required to include comprehensive studies.

“The real cost is figuring out whether your product is going to affect public health,” Jayson said. Such studies can take years to complete.

“It could remove a lot of the manufacturers out of the business,” Jayson said. “Some companies are trying to go ahead with the PMTA and do the paperwork.”

“It is unclear whether the Trump administration, in terms of the diligence of enforcing this regulation, it’s unclear where it’s going to stand, but as of now, these deadlines are still holding and it could seriously affect this market in two years,” Jayson said.

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818