Local vendors welcome some e-cigarette regulation

Tony Casey • Apr 24, 2014 at 9:54 PM

It might be strange to imagine local small businesses welcoming regulation from the federal government, but that’s exactly the case with two e-cigarette stores, at least to a certain extent.

After it was announced the government, through the Food and Drug Administration, has intentions to ban the sales of electronic cigarettes to those under 18 years old and also require the approval of new products that are hitting the shelves of stores by the hundreds as well as displaying warning labels, the owners of both Rocky Top Vapor and Vape On are on board for some, but not an unmanageable amount, of regulation.

Joe Nelson, of Rocky Top Vapor on Bristol Highway, said they’re already instituting state laws to require those who buy the e-cigarettes filled with often-flavored water vapor be 18 years old, but much more regulation than the basics might “choke out” their ability to operate as a small business. He and his son have been co-owners for about 3½ years and have seen the popularity of the devices soar. With business going so well, Nelson said he always knew the day would come.

“We’ve expected some sort of regulation to come down,” Nelson said. He said warning labels on the products he sells might not end up being as graphic as those on a pack of cigarettes, but there should be some kind of warning and, perhaps, a list of ingredients.

The FDA’s announcement is geared to slow down the e-cigarette industry, which has all but gone unregulated in recent years. One thing Nelson said has seen mandated is the store owners’ and manufacturers’ ability to tell customers that e-cigarettes can somehow help them. They can’t promise that to customers without welcoming other kinds of regulations, but Nelson is willing to say enough people come through his doors with anecdotal evidence that the often less-nicotine-filled devices have helped them scale back their smoking of traditional cigarettes a great deal or given them the ability to quit all together.

What’s most important to Nelson, he says, is both following all regulations and being straight up and honest with his customers. With that, he admits a lot of the vapors, their many flavor varieties, contain some amount of highly addictive nicotine, and that needs to be considered. The benefits, though, are that many of the options he sells have less and sometimes no nicotine, which is also becoming more and more popular with those who frequent his business.

With the “smoke” appearance produced from the devices, you’d think users would smell like smoke, but that’s not the case with water vapor-filled e-cigarettes, he said.

“There’s no secondhand smoke,” Nelson said. “You might see it, but you don’t smell it and you don’t smell like it.”

Brandy Gobble, a Facebook commenter on the Johnson City Press’ page and a big proponent of e-cigarettes, said she’s been using her device for about 18 months and when she went to a lung doctor, she was told her lungs looked good.

Vape On’s owner, who identified himself as Jason Vapor, agreed that regulations need to be made in the way of age mandates, listed ingredients and warning labels, but said things could get hairy when it comes to requiring approval of every new product.

He said it would apply to all new products, but also all the existing products, too, which might cause a bottleneck of backlogged products waiting for approval, possibly leaving his shelves close to empty. Over-regulation, Vapor said, would come at the worst time for a business owner who has seen his business grow mightily in recent years. There are some public health officials who have said overregulating e-cigarettes could stop the potential for more smokers to ween themselves off traditional cigarettes.

“We’ve had several who have stopped cold turkey,” Vapor said about the success of e-cigarettes.

Moving forward, the FDA is welcoming comments from the public and people working in the industry over the next 75 days in regard to the proposal.

Vapor said he intends on being a part of the conversation and that other people at Vape On do, too.

“Our voices will be heard,” Vapor said.

Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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