I don’t think I’ve mentioned much that I vape. I started vaping to give up cigarettes, and I’m extremely close to giving up nicotine entirely. I did do a post on my old blog a few years back talking about a study claiming to have found formaldehyde production in vapes, but I think that’s the last time I talked about it on either blog.
What I want to do in this post is give y’all a surface-level breakdown of the state of the vaping union as it is right now. I’m going to go over some of the science, a little bit of the misinformation, where the laws in the US stand, and also what’s going on with vaping communities (there will be discussion of things going on with Reddit right now).
The summary is that, for people who vape or are interested in vaping, the whole thing sits in a pretty hellish limbo right now. There is a lot of misinformation out there in large part because bad science is getting more publicity than good science, the tobacco industry is pushing regulations that could destroy the industry, and communities like Reddit, separate from regulations, are basically destroying vaping subreddits. This post may, in some instances, come across as rather libertarian and anti-FDA because I really hate the regulations currently in place. But if you know me, you know that I am very much a fan of regulation and I support the FDA usually. But the way this is all being handled is pretty horrible right now, so keep that context in mind.
FDA DEEMING REGULATIONS
First, I want to start with the main thing that affects vapers, and that is the regulations currently in place. Back in 2016, the FDA expanded its authority to regulate electronic cigarettes and the e-liquid that goes with them. It deemed e-liquid a tobacco product (something I disagree with, because a) nicotine can be found outside of tobacco and b) not all e-liquid has nicotine in it) and deemed electronic cigarettes and other vapes as nicotine delivery systems (I do agree with this when nicotine is involved). Part of that authority was ruling that all vaping products manufactured and marketed in the US for sale after February 15, 2007 had to be approved through the Pre-Market Tobacco Application (PMTA) process, which costs around $300,000. Now, for larger companies, $300,000 is not that much, but for smaller companies, especially in the vaping industry, that’s a lot of money… enough, in fact, to potentially discourage them from creating anything new in the first place.
So here’s the thing… until basically now, the FDA was not going out of its way to enforce its authority here. And as you can imagine, there have been a lot of products and e-liquid manufactured and sold in the United States since that time. There has been a lot of technological innovation with chips for regulated mods, which means new mods, there have been tanks, RDAs, and other atomizers that have been created and sold, and so on.
According to a new report by ECigIntelligence, the FDA has not approved a single PMTA since its deeming regulations went into effect. What does this mean? Well… it basically means that all hardware and e-liquids produced after February 15, 2007 are illegal. I am using a technically illegal mod and tank to vape… and I had no idea.
Now vape companies like Smok and Wismec are large companies based in China. And I guess maybe they thought that, since they’re based in China, they’re exempt from these regulations. But if they wish to ship to and sell in the United States, they are not exempt from these regulations. And they can afford the $300,000. They are large enough and make enough of a profit to afford it. And they aren’t the only ones. Nearly all the vaping companies are based out of China, now. China is where most vaping hardware and even many juices are manufactured. They chose not to go through the approval process presumably because of the aforementioned assumption as well as the assumption that the FDA wouldn’t enforce the regulations.
However, the FDA has been shopping for inspectors to potentially go into vape shops across the country and clean them of hardware and juice manufactured between February 15, 2007 and now, which would basically wipe out almost all of the products on the market today.
So how about those regulations?
They are… not popular within the vaping community, and for good reason in my opinion. As I said above… I do not agree that e-liquid can necessarily be considered a tobacco product. For one thing, nicotine is found across the entire nightshade family of plants. This includes tobacco, but also eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, etc. Although, to be completely fair, tobacco has more nicotine than the other plants, so I do understand that logic. The problem is that e-liquid does not have to contain nicotine. A lot of people vape e-liquid that is clear of any controlled substance at all, meaning it’s just vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, and/or flavoring. Further, some e-liquids can contain other substances like THC, CBD, caffeine, etc. So calling e-liquid a “tobacco product” is far too simplistic, as it’s quite a bit more complicated than that.
Then there’s the age restrictions. Now, I will say that I agree with this. I strongly believe that any product that contains a controlled substance, be it nicotine, THC, or whatever, should be kept out of the hands of children. However, there is an argument here involving electronic cigarettes that I would like to highlight. Note, again, that I don’t necessarily agree with this; but I think there is a logic here that is worth at least thinking about.
Cigarettes are extremely dangerous. Nicotine is perhaps the least harmful chemical found in a cigarette, which can contain up to 600 ingredients, many of which are also used to make cement, various poisons, and tar. This serves to make cigarettes even more addictive than nicotine, which itself is already addictive. We also know that kids… well… smoke. Despite our best efforts, it’s not a rare sight to see a high-schooler or even middle-schooler lighting up a cigarette. Lately, however, it’s becoming more and more common to see kids vaping. I have seen it myself, as well as encountered angry parents storming into vape shops after finding vape products hidden in their children’s rooms.
Now, electronic cigarettes are marketed two ways: one as smoking cessation devices, which is how they worked for me, and the other as harm reduction devices, because while vaping is not specifically healthy, it is absolutely healthier than smoking, and there is a ton of science to back this up (I’ll get to that later in this post).
Now the question is… why do kids vape? The FDA is operating under the impression that they are now vaping because of the flavors. But I think the reality is rather different. Kids also smoke, drink alcohol, and some even get into completely illegal drugs. Kids do it all because they are rebellious, and because they are experimenting… but mostly because, to them, it’s a forbidden fruit. Thus, it’s “cool”. Kids see adults do it, the “cool” kids pick it up, peer pressure occurs, and it spreads. I strongly believe that flavors don’t have anything to do with it, because if it did, why would they smoke? As an ex-smoker, that stuff really does not taste good.
Some vapers look at the fact that vaping is seen, in part, as harm reduction, and so, when faced with kids vaping, their response is “but at least they aren’t smoking, and that’s certainly better”. Some argue that if e-liquid without nicotine were made available to all ages, why would it matter if kids were vaping, as long as nicotine wasn’t involved?
Now, to be completely fair, early devices, especially things like mechanical mods, were dangerous. They were basically pipe bombs that could go off with the slightest mistake, because there was no technical (not legal) regulation on the batteries, and these batteries were being used in ways that were outside the parameters of why they were created (for flashlights, laptops, etc). We have regulated mods now that are much safer, but they still aren’t completely safe; things can still go wrong. You still have to practice battery safety (don’t use batteries without wraps or with ripped wraps, don’t mix and match battery brands, use batteries that are “married”, etc). So, there is a legitimate reason to worry about the safety of a kid who is doing it because it’s “cool” but doesn’t have much, if any, knowledge about battery safety and such.
However, there are devices on the market, usually marketed as “starter kits”, that have built-in batteries that are even safer than regulated mods using external batteries. Even when these fail, they do so in a way that leaves the user pretty much unharmed… it might hurt their wallet as they have to get a replacement, but that’s it.
Of course, there’s the “gateway” argument. For ex-smokers who now vape, vaping is a gateway to a smoke-free life. But for a kid who’s never smoked, could vaping be a gateway to smoking? Some vapers argue that it couldn’t be, because why would they switch to the gross taste of cigarettes after experiencing the range of better flavors offered by vaping? However, it doesn’t have to be a gateway to smoking necessarily, and we have to remember that it’s not so much about being a gateway to smoking as it is about being a gateway to drugs in general. Of course, you could also make that argument about caffeine… itself a genuine drug that has no age restrictions attached to it. So, some vapers would argue that the “gateway” argument is ignoring the larger point… kids are going to go after forbidden fruits. It’s natural. So shouldn’t they have access to safer “forbidden fruits”, like vaping as compared to smoking, especially with e-liquid available without any nicotine?
Again, I want to stress that I don’t necessarily agree with this argument. I have always agreed with age restrictions. They make sense to me, and I understand why they exist. I do think certain things should be age-restricted, and nicotine, regardless of how it’s delivered, should be one of those things. I have to admit, however, that when you take nicotine out of the equation, and are talking about illicit-substance-free e-liquid, the arguments above are at least a little more compelling; and the harm reduction argument is a little compelling, as well.
To get back to the FDA regulations… another problem with the regulations is the grandfather date of February 15, 2007. If this is enforced, there is no vaping industry, as that would take literally everything but the original cigalikes and some mech mods off the market. This goes back to the problem I mentioned above about the PMTA and the fact that manufacturers did not follow this procedure for products released after February 15, 2007. This is, at least in part, the fault of vaping manufacturers. What I didn’t mention above, however, is that it’s not just about the $300,000 fee.
The PMTA process is… complicated. It requires scientific data, said fee, more money spent on said data as well as lawyers, and so on. Submitters must prove that their product is not only beneficial to individuals, but to society as a whole, which is very hard, because there isn’t any way to determine that, at least as far as I’m aware. White Cloud has a great breakdown of the PMTA process that everyone should read. The ultimate point is that, if enforced as it is now, the vaping industry is effectively done. It will be easier for major conglomerates, such as the tobacco industry, to go through this process than even the larger vape companies like Wismec and Smok.
Outside of the FDA deeming regulations, there is also now debate around e-liquid flavorings. The FDA is considering restricting flavors massively, under the argument that fruit and candy flavors and such appeal to children. The problem with this is basically the fact that adults enjoy fruit and candy as well. My first e-liquid was cotton candy-flavored, and I loved it. I was 27, BTW, when I started vaping. Further, this calls into question the existence of, for example, whipped-cream-flavored vodka. If candy-flavored e-liquid is essentially “advertising to children”, why isn’t similarly-flavored alcohol considered the same? Luckily, the FDA is allowing public comments on this one until June 19, 2018.
So… what can be done about all this?
There is a new bill going through congress. Known as H.R.1136, or the Cole-Bishop Amendment, it’s main thing would be to change the grandfather date from February 15, 2007 to August 8, 2016 (when the FDA deeming regulations first went into effect). This would take a lot of stress off the vaping industry, allowing a lot of more modern vaping tech to remain on the market. This would still leave mods and tanks like the ones I’m using in limbo, but it would very much help. It would also make the PMTA process less cumbersome. The deadline for contacting congress-people has passed, as it was March 22nd. So, now, we have to wait to see what happens…
I highly recommend checking out CASAA, which has much more in-depth information.
Let’s get off the regulations, and talk about something related… the science. I’m going to keep this one short, since I spent so much time talking about the regulations and I also want to alert y’all to what’s going on at Reddit.
Basically, there’s a lot of interesting developments scientifically, and there is a dichotomy I find rather fascinating… many of the scientific studies out of the US on vaping are… well… rather negative. They constantly “find” toxic chemicals and so on, and some even go so far as to suggest that there’s no evidence that vaping is any safer than smoking. But if you look at the UK, they seem to think it’s a good 95% safer than smoking, and, in fact, the UK regulates vaping as a medical/smoking cessation device, and actually encourage smokers to switch to vaping.
So let’s look at this dichotomy a little more….
Back in January, New York University conducted a study on mice to look at the effects of vaping on their DNA. I’ll just quote the article here:
Moon-shong Tang, professor of environmental medicine at New York University, and his team looked at how e-cigarette vapor affected the DNA of mice and lab-grown human cells. They exposed the mice to vapor for three hours a day, five days a week for a period of three months, using an automated three-port e-cigarette aerosol generator. This special machine used NJOY top-fill tanks filled with 1.6 mL of e-juice with 10 mg/mL nicotine in a propylene glycol/vegetable glycerin mixture(50/50 by volume; MtBakerVapor MESA). 4-second puffs were generated into the exposure room at 30-second intervals.
After analyzing the data collected during the three-month study, researchers concluded that the exposure to nicotine-containing vapor caused DNA damage in the hearts, lungs and bladders of mice, and that the animals’ natural DNA repair mechanisms had also been suppressed. These sort of changes were not evident in a control group of mice that had breathed filtered air during the study.
Tang and his team then went on to expose lab-grown human lung and bladder cells to nicotine, and found that it caused the cells to mutate and turn into tumor tissue more easily. Apparently, the nicotine nitrosation process that occurs in the lung, bladder, and heart creates other DNA damaging agents – 4-(methylnitrosamine)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone.
“We propose that ECS (electronic cigarette smoke), through damaging DNA and inhibiting DNA repair, might contribute to human lung and bladder cancer as well as to heart disease, although further studies are required to substantiate this proposal,” the NYU researchers concluded.
The first response came from Cancer Research UK. This is part of what they had to say:
Researchers from New York University School of Medicine looked at how e-cigarette vapour affected the DNA of mice, and human cells in a dish.
They didn’t look at how it affected people. And they didn’t directly compare it to smoking.
The researchers focused on how components of e-cig vapour damage cells’ DNA. And DNA damage increases the risk of cancer.
But they didn’t look directly at whether e-cigs caused cancer, either in mice or in people.
Please read the whole thing. It’s short.
It was back in 2015 that major studies of vaping out of the UK determined that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking, that it is an effective method of cessation, and has a strong correlation with the massive drop in the amount of UK citizens who smoke.
It should also be noted that in February of 2018, the American Cancer Society released the following statement, quoted here in part:
Based on currently available evidence, using current generation e-cigarettes is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but the health effects of long-term use are not known. The American Cancer Society (the ACS) recognizes our responsibility to closely monitor and synthesize scientific knowledge about the effects of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and any new products derived from tobacco. As new evidence emerges, the ACS will promptly report these findings to policy makers, the public and clinicians.
Now this is a good stance to take. It is true that vaping is still new, so long-terms effects cannot yet be studied in full. Many of these will not show up for 20 or even 30 years. I have never argued that vaping is healthy, and in fact agree that, scientifically speaking, we genuinely do not know what the long-terms effects will be. That doesn’t change the fact that, by all accounts, vaping is less harmful than smoking.
If you want perhaps the most balanced take on vaping I have ever seen, search out BBC Horizon’s episode on electronic cigarettes, first aired on May 22, 2016 (hey! My 29th birthday!). The entire episode was built around a semi-“scientific” study, and the conclusion was this: if you smoke, you should switch to vaping. If you don’t smoke, then you shouldn’t vape. This makes perfect sense to me, and it’s what I‘ve always argued. There is no reason to use vaping as a way to develop a nicotine habit. But if you already have one, vaping is a very good option to help you quit, not least because you can customize the amount of nicotine in your e-liquid, thus allowing yourself to slowly decrease the amount of nicotine you take in over time.
Finally, as promised, I wanted to talk about recent developments at Reddit. What’s happening over there doesn’t have to do with the regulations necessarily, and in fact are not specifically related to vaping or vaping subreddits. So why am I talking about this here?
r/electronic_cigarette is one of the most active vaping communities online. Of course, it’s Reddit, so there are always trolls, but this sub is moderated extremely well. It has been a source of information for newbies, a place for new e-liquid manufacturers to get their names and brands out to the community, a place for coupons and giveaways, a place to gather for activism, and a place for vapers to simply hang out.
For those who weren’t aware, Reddit is looking to go public by 2020. As a result (or at least, many people think all this is related), they are “cleaning up their image”, which over the past few days has meant sudden bans of many subreddits with no warning. Now, in many ways, this is good… especially for those of us who know the grosser side of Reddit. There’s a lot of stuff there that really shouldn’t be there. So, cleaning it up seems like a good idea. Here are the new rules being imposed by Reddit:
We want to let you know that we have made a new addition to our content policy forbidding transactions for certain goods and services. As of today, users may not use Reddit to solicit or facilitate any transaction or gift involving certain goods and services, including:
- Firearms, ammunition, or explosives;
- Drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, or any controlled substances (except advertisements placed in accordance with our advertising policy);
- Paid services involving physical sexual contact;
- Stolen goods;
- Personal information;
- Falsified official documents or currency
When considering a gift or transaction of goods or services not prohibited by this policy, keep in mind that Reddit is not intended to be used as a marketplace and takes no responsibility for any transactions individual users might decide to undertake in spite of this. Always remember: you are dealing with strangers on the internet.
So far so good. Still no problem, right?
Let’s look a little closer at this: “Drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, or any controlled substances (except advertisements placed in accordance with our advertising policy)”
Remember how tobacco products are considered “controlled substances”, and e-liquid is considered to be a tobacco product? What this means is that Reddit has been cracking down on subs that discuss e-liquid. DIY e-juice subs have been banned, and r/electronic_cigarette has been forced to basically stop all discussion of e-liquid that includes links. E-liquid manufacturers are no longer allowed to post coupon codes or giveaways at all, and reviews cannot include links to sites that sell e-liquid, even if the review is on vaping hardware, and what they are linking to is said vaping hardware.
For smaller e-liquid manufacturers, this has been yet another blow to their business. This sub is actually where a lot of smaller e-liquid manufacturers got their start, and they depended on the sub for a lot of their business. The FDA deeming regulations have already made it much tougher to survive as a business in the vaping industry, and now Reddit is taking away the main source of advertising for many of these smaller e-liquid manufacturers. And that is why I’m mentioning it here.
(I think it’s also worth mentioning that Reddit has not yet banned subs dedicated to things like cocaine [not quitting cocaine, but building a community around the use of it], watching people die, and so on, which further throws this whole thing into question.)
Right now, the state of the vaping union is… not strong. Vaping is genuinely a healthier alternative to smoking, and further, is helping so many people (including yours truly) to give up nicotine entirely. Yet things are conspiring to destroy this union completely. I don’t know if vaping has been around long enough to say objectively that vaping has saved lives, but I don’t think that’s a ridiculous proposition, either.
Right now, the Cole-Bishop Amendment desperately has to pass. After that, we need to work on new, better, and more effective regulations that will allow a robust vaping industry to thrive away from the grubby hands of the tobacco industry.
We can strengthen the vaping union, but not without hard work. I hope everyone is willing to do that hard work.