A Rough Week

Not to put too fine a point on it this week has been, quite frankly the shittiest week I have experienced as a vaper. We saw the resolution of the Totally Wicked challenge – overturned, as expected by many. We also saw the FDA release its final ruling on ‘tobacco products’.

To say that those that clamoured for both outcomes were crowing their victories from the highest towers would be a monumental understatement. Of epic proportions.

In pretty much both cases, those folks have been calling their victories “a major blow to big tobacco” – and with the deeming, they are already saying that “it’s not enough”. After the elation that many felt with the release of the Royal College of Physicians report, and how it would be used as a major tool to further push back against ridiculous, nanny statist notions of prohibition, I’ve kind of come down to earth with a crash.

Vapers saw the same with the release of the PHE review. Elation followed swiftly by anger (among other emotions) as the usual suspects did their very best to slur the entire report based on “opinion” and “CoI” yet not actually refuting any of it with science of their own – but then, it’s never truly been about the science has it?

Sure, at the end of the day I’m human. I had my reservations about the TW Challenge being successful, I’m pretty sure we all had reservations, but that didn’t stop me supporting it, nor did it stop me encouraging others to support it. For those that I helped encourage to support it, I feel like I let them down, not TW. Bizarre isn’t it? It wasn’t my challenge, I wasn’t going before the Court of Justice of the European Union, yet I’m the one feeling responsible for those I’d encouraged to support and sign the challenge. I know TW did their very best, as did everyone else involved in the challenge – gathering signatures, spreading the word, encouraging others.

This wasn’t a failure on part of TW, nor on part of the community as a whole. It was a failure by the CJEU, as I always expected it would be. Just like the FDA have utterly failed to consider any evidence post 2009 (well not strictly true, but the rules make it appear that way).

Was it disappointing for the rules to be deemed lawful, and the FDA seemingly ignoring evidence? Of course it was. It did make me angry. Despite the hard work of hundreds of people, submitting comments to the FDA (of which I was one) on the evidence of vapour products, the continuous support for all involved and so forth, it was disappointing to have the outcome we now have.

So with burgeoning rules being classified as “lawful” by the CJEU and the impending “Deeming” rules to be posted in the Federal Register on Monday 9th May, what is the likely impact?

I’m not going into the technicalities of the Deeming, I’m no-where near qualified enough. Let’s just take for example the widespread commentary (which may or may not be accurate) that in six months there can be nothing new on the US market, and that by the end of two years if the FDA haven’t received PMTA’s for the products intended for market (or already on the market) then that is the end of that product.

Rumours and theories abound of course, most calling the ruling prohibition (which in my personal view is exactly what it is), others mentioning that at least 99% of the current products will be removed from the market.

So let’s take a second and look at what could happen to vapers in places where their favourite flavours and devices are no longer available.

The vast majority of vapers are former smokers. As with anything, be it smoking or vaping there is two sides to it – you could feasibly call them “habit” and “hobby” but the two often intersect – especially with smoking, that fancy new ashtray you bought from a shop while on holiday that sits pride of place on your living room table, or maybe you have a small (or sizeable) collection of lighters – it happens, I had 6 Zippo lighters at one point, each with different engravings and so forth.

Does the habit feed the hobby or vice versa?

As someone who was once in that position, it is both. I bought smokes, I bought unique ashtrays and other paraphernalia. Did I need to invest in the hobby of smoking? Nope, not one bit. But I wanted to. It seemed right. I would guess that many smokers are in a similar position.

Then those same smokers switch to vaping. They’ve no doubt still got some of the smoking hobby lying around – I still have the “holiday ashtrays” – maybe every once in a while they’ll light up a smoke just because they want to. Vaping is incredibly similar, many of those that like to tinker will have a vast array of mods, tanks, atomisers and various other bits and pieces for no other reason than enjoyment.

Are these former smokers now vapers going to go back to their old hobby?

It is an interesting question isn’t it? When faced with the possibility that the vast majority of products vapers use are going to be taken off-market, many assume one of two things:

  • They’ll be forced back to smoking
  • They’ll turn to the black market

In fact, I would suggest that when one product is removed from the market (or in this case a product-set), the outcome is likely to be far more nuanced than the two assumptions above. While it is true there is likely to be a proportion of vapers switching back to smoking, I don’t think that it’ll be as many as folk expect. Let’s face it, vaping is a less-harmful alternative to smoking – it is in fact mimicking smoking in such a way to be reassuring to the user – this would be one of, if not the key reason vaping has proven to be so popular (that is nuanced in itself as everyone is different). Of course let us not forget the pleasure principle associated with the hand-to-mouth action and the sensations of inhaling something.

Thing is, there are still going to be some vapour products on the market – true they are going to be what many consider to be “inferior” products to what they currently use, but vapour products aren’t the only product out there. There are Heat Not Burn products, and there are several variations of them. Do they work? Honestly I have no idea. They may not work for me, but they will probably work for someone.

Is it wrong for a current vaper to switch to another product? Absolutely not.

There is, of course Snus – and where it is legal (yes thanks EU, you screwed the pooch on that one. AGAIN.) and offered as an alternative without ridiculous extra warnings and text (yes FDA, I’m looking at you for that) there is something remarkable happening. Snus, in Sweden has had a substantial impact on the use of combustible tobacco that they enjoy a worldwide status of having the lowest smoking prevalence rate. Though Snus is but one popular product among the Smokeless Tobacco group which does included chewing tobacco.

In places where other products are available – like Snus – it is, to my mind a misconception that vapers will be “forced” back to smoking – there will be a division:

  • Some will indeed return to smoking – it’s familiar to them
  • Some may try alternatives, like Snus (there may even be some Snus (or former) users that vape)
  • Some may continue with “inferior” products
  • Some may just cease the “use of nicotine” altogether
  • Others will turn to the black market

In most cases, where the vaper is a former combustible tobacco smoker they will probably feel forced – either they aren’t fully aware of, or have tried and didn’t like, the alternatives available – this is a bold assumption, and will most likely not be demonstrated.

There is still time, the TPD (for the UK vapers at least) isn’t as bad as it could be (it’s still pretty terrible for smokers, no more pack of 10, no more menthol come 2020, larger warnings, plain packaging – which wasn’t in the TPD, that is a little buffing from the respective Member States) – as Dave Dorn mentioned on stage at the Vaper Expo yesterday, the UK will get by. The rest of the EU? Well they are pretty much fucked.

The Deeming? The analysis of the final rule is ongoing by folk far cleverer than me and no doubt there are still options available which will become clear in time.

Patience folks.

#CelebrateTheVape and #CelebrateTheSmoke

  • IMSiegfried

    Probably one of the most interesting blog posts I’ve read on the topic to date. Thanks!