Since it’s a new year, I wanted to share some personal thoughts. My editors happily obliged. This is not a goodbye column.
A few short weeks have passed, and we are well underway with 2023. 2022, I must say, was very eventful.
In the United States, we again survived the 2022 midterm election season that saw the lower U.S. House of Representatives change from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.
Democrats retained their slim majority over the U.S. Senate.
Pres. Joe Biden faces the final two years of his term, with the incumbent’s intent to run in the 2024 presidential election still up in the air. Frankly, a rash of recent political scandals that have hit Biden and his age makes him a tough choice for the Democrats.
It’s not like the right-wing GOP-turned-xenophobe’s-delight-party is any better. Former Pres. Donald Trump, a man that I not only loathe for his hypocrisy over vaping and tobacco harm reduction but for his conspiracy theories surrounding his loss in 2020, will likely face the penalties for his crimes and has little to no chance of any real success politically in the foreseeable future. This is the case for 2024, where he will get his butt whooped by Republicans (who I also hate) that are more likable and electable than him.
Considering the variables
The variables are much to consider. But, hell… I digress. 2023 is a new year with new and old challenges directly impacting vaping. It’s funny—I started working on the vaping issue in 2018. I joined the English version of Vaping Post as a columnist in 2019. That is over four years of dedicated service to you, dear readers.
After taking a hiatus from my editorial work here at Vaping Post to focus on other projects throughout much of 2022, I finally returned late last year to a newsroom that was watching the great vaping empire of Juul Labs fall apart incredibly on a national stage. Frankly, I couldn’t be happier about Juul Labs’ issues.
I have long heralded the once great vape manufacturer, even in my defense and criticism of the company, as the “Walmart of vaping.” Juul was a meteoric success only when Altria Group acquired over a third of the company just a few short years ago.
This made Juul Labs worth billions of dollars. Since then, Juul Labs—the vaping market as a whole—has witnessed a case of such dramatic change that the business environment of the late 2010s is now just a memory of what could’ve been a high point.
A changing marketplace
Now, Juul is a shell of its former self. With the deadline for the Food and Drug Administration’s premarket tobacco product applications deadline in 2020, the vaping industry imploded on itself. Mom-and-pop shops viewed the regulatory burden of the Tobacco Control Act of 2009 and the requirements to seek and win PMTA approval as too costly and far-reaching.
Only large firms with the money and the ability to wait long periods for PMTA approvals to be granted for every component of their products survived. Now, the most significant vaping manufacturers are the tobacco companies—entities that vapers and those who pioneered the vaping industry as we know it hated.
Now, look at the marketplace. Juul still exists, yes. At least, that is after the company took one of the most thorough regulatory beatings I’ve ever seen in my career as a journalist and public policy analyst. NJOY is still an independent firm, luckily. But, the vast majority of the vaping products you find behind the counter at your local convenience shop, dairy, or bodega are all owned by the largest tobacco manufacturers in the world. Firms like these include R.J. Reynolds, Altria, Imperial Brands, and Philip Morris International. It is also quite sad if you don’t mind me adding.
An unfortunate scenario
How did we get here, though? Was it regulation? Was it politics?
Both regulation and politics contribute to our current state of affairs, but what put us in the predicament we face is money.
Money is power. Power translates to politics. Politics translates to regulation. Money is raised by manufactured fear and moral panics from people who either don’t understand a particular issue or are just pure cynics. And the cycle responds and starts again.
Independent vaping was once the future of development and innovation in this market. Now, those who choose independent vape over tobacco-owned vape have to rely upon the intentions of tobacco companies who want to adopt “smoke-free” futures all of a sudden. Call me a hypocrite or a cynic myself. However, the life of a product that isn’t supported by a hefty sum of seed money to back it up is much shorter than a product that has that support.
In a little Colorado town near where I live, only one vape shop is left in business.
They mix liquids, sell other independent brands, and even fill their own pods for closed systems.
Just two years ago, before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were four vape shops that competed against each other and provided the few vapers in this town with a true variety of products that aided in smoking cessation for hundreds of people.
Now, the vape shop that remains is struggling to survive.
The owner, a dear friend, confided in me that she has no choice but to shut down in the new year.
She exhausted her options to keep her shop open.
She has a backup plan. She owns a small licensed cannabis farm in town that will get her family by for the time being.
But, the point is that she poured her life into her vape shop—tens of thousands of dollars of her money put into the business, going the entire pandemic without a salary to pay her staff, advocating for social justice, and simply being the inspiration she is to her community and her family. This defines her. It’s a part of her.
When is life too much?
Now, what is she to do?
I guess she’ll be “fine” with her cannabis business.
She has the means to provide for her children.
But, when I last saw her, she broke down in front of me and told me that if she lost her vape shop, a large part of her would die with the business that defined not only her identity and income but (in her eyes) her worth as a human.
I think that she is more worthy of a human than me. You can’t change someone’s mind that easily, though. And, it goes double if that someone pins their worth to their material manifestations.
I am trying to reach this conclusion: My friend doesn’t blame big tobacco for her current challenges.
Nor do I blame big tobacco per se.
I blame a system that puts money—billions of dollars—ahead of small and honest business owners from all walks of life.
You have to sprinkle in the politics, regulation, Biden, that idiot Trump, and the manufactured fear. And, there you have it.
We need to continue to fight in 2023 and into 2024.
We as a community must unite to defend vaping, the owners of small businesses, the burgeoning marijuana-vaping segment, and so much more. I rarely take such an aggressive position.
The time to renew the defense of independent vaping is here.
I hope you join me in the new year as I emphasize independent vaping even more in my journalism for Vaping Post. Stay tuned.