Area vape shop owners and tobacco experts at odds over FDA e-cig regulations

Tony Casey • Updated Aug 9, 2016 at 4:19 PM

There are many Tri-Cities businesses where people can buy e-cigarettes and the many flavors of nicotine “juice” that goes into them.

In just a few short years, though, owners and managers of these businesses fear there will be few to no options for “vaping” supplies.

That’s mostly due to the Food and Drug Administration’s new regulations, which officially went into effect earlier this week.

James Puffenbarger, who manages the Johnson City-based Iron Horse Vapors and More, said the regulations are too heavy-handed and will likely put Iron Horse and its business peers out of operation in the upcoming years.

“They’re pretty much trying to shut it down,” Puffenbarger said about the vaping industry as a whole.

The most notable of these regulations include:

• disallowing shop owners from giving away free samples

• prohibiting sales to children under 18

• disallowing vending machine sales in places that aren’t adult-only

• barring manufacturers from claiming their products are safer than they are without providing FDA-approved information containing scientific evidence

• mandating strict FDA approval for new products and approval for products made after 2007.

Later, other provisions will require all nicotine-containing products to carry warning labels about addiction and a disclosure of all ingredients and how they relate to public health. Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading preventable cause of death, with nearly 500,000 Americans dying of the ailments it causes each year, costing the country about $170 billion annually in health care bills.

Puffenbarger said a vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the November presidential election would be a good step for vaping supporters, as well as contacting all local congressmen.

Donnie Grayer owns and works the Volunteer Vapors shop on Milligan Highway.

He agrees anyone upset over these regulations should contact their representatives to let them know their displeasure, specifically how the changes will restrict and suffocate many small businesses in the region.

While Grayer also blames the government’s mandates, he places a lot of the blame on “big tobacco,” which he says is the collective entity trying to take control of this market as they consistently lose their traditional cigarette smokers.

“These regulations are something that helps the tobacco industry tighten their grip,” Grayer said. “Small business will be effected.”

Grayer said if the FDA was serious about curbing tobacco use and general public health, it would embrace vaping. He said vaping helps many people get away from traditional tobacco.

Both he and Puffenbarger said they frequently hear about success stories, in which their customers have been able to cut traditional tobacco and then lower the amount of nicotine they take in through their e-cigarettes. Some of those have been able to cut back to almost nothing and stick with just the flavor additives, Puffenbarger said.

Dr. Hadii Mamudu, an East Tennessee State University assistant professor in the school’s College of Public Health, is a world-wide recognized expert on this topic. One of his biggest evidence-based concerns, which have been somewhat addressed in the new regulations, pertain to the unsettling trend that more youth are taking to e-cigarette use, whereas they might not have come into tobacco use otherwise.

“A North Carolina survey suggests that youth use rates increased from 1.1 percent to about 8 percent between just 2011 and 2013,” Mamudu said. “It’s very, very quick. And that’s troubling that it’s bringing in new smokers.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Study found that more than 24 percent of high school students currently used e-cigarettes, compared to almost 11 percent who smoked traditional cigarettes.

Not all of these new e-cigarette users will graduate to traditional cigarette use, but Mamudu said many will, and that will have a severely negative effect on public health.

It’s partly generational, Mamudu said, and it’s frustrating that when tobacco experts were making progress against tobacco use in recent decades, e-cigarettes came along to cut into their gains.

Mamudu agreed, however, with the vapor shop owners that big tobacco’s hand in the e-cigarette industry will continue to be troubling, as they buy influence in the marketability of these products, especially to younger generations.

Email Tony Casey at [email protected]. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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