Vaping Regulations Are Now in Effect, Here’s What that Means for Vapers

No more free samples. No more health claims. And make sure you bring your ID.

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Aug 8 2016, 4:05pm

Image: Lindsay Fox/ecigarettereviewed.com

Vape stores and ice cream shops have had one thing in common for years now: free samples. Just like an ice cream shop lets you try a spoonful of any flavor before choosing your double scoop, vape shops often let customers sample e-liquid flavors before buying a full bottle. But those days have officially ended in the US, as the Food and Drug Administration's regulations on e-cigarettes came into effect Monday.

As of Monday, retailers can no longer give away free samples, sell products in a vending machine (except in adult-only facilities), or tell customers that vaping is less harmful than smoking—even though all of the scientific evidence we have so far shows that it is. This is a major sore spot for lots of vape companies.

"I'm no longer allowed to share the story of our best success: a 65 year old woman who smoked three packs a day for nearly 20 years, who quit smoking and vaping altogether in a little less than six months with the help of electronic cigarettes," one vendor lamented on Reddit.

It's also now officially illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors, although this was already the case at the state level. It took some states longer than others (Montana's law banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors only came into effect this year), but every state had already made it illegal to sell vapes to kids, with some states even banning the sale to anyone under 21.

Many in the industry were fully supportive of these age restriction, but as of Monday retailers will also have to verify the age of customers. In a brick-and-mortar shop, that's as simply as checking the customer's ID. But for online retailers, it gets more complicated.

"It's not just 'check this box if you are above the age of 18,' it'd be awesome if it was that simple," Tim Mechling, the assistant brand manager for Mt. Baker Vaping, one of the largest US vaping companies, told me. "We have to do this arduous service called BlueCheck, in which people actually have to take a selfie with their ID and put the last four digits of their social security number, which a lot of our customers are not cool with."

Mechling told me Mt. Baker introduced this age verification system for customers in California after the law changed to require it, and the company's sales in that state have since dropped by 50 percent.

"Nobody wants to take that stupid selfie," he said, noting it was both time consumer and a security concern for some customers.

Regulation in this industry is important and necessary, both to keep the products out of the hands of teens—who are increasingly interested in vaping—and to ensure the safety of the products adults are using. But the industry is worried over-regulation could put up too many barriers and limit the number of smokers who are able to get the harm reduction benefits of vaping.

One of the biggest concerns isn't these immediate changes, but the long-term ramifications of the new rules. Manufacturers now have two years to file lengthy, expensive paperwork to register their products. Each flavor and nicotine strength of a company's e-liquid (many companies produce hundreds of flavors and nicotine combinations) has to be registered.

The FDA has relaxed the requirements, now allowing manufacturers to submit all their products under one application, and the agency estimates these applications will cost between $117,000 and $466,000, not the millions it had previously estimated. But it's still a lengthy and expensive process that many vape businesses simply can't afford. This means the variety and size of the market is likely to shrink dramatically over the next two years.

There's a chance that could change if Congress passes a law to amend a date in the deeming regulations that would grandfather-in all the existing vape products. There have been a few bills introduced to do just that, and many in the industry continue to lobby for the change. But for now, everybody must accept the new climate: a stricter, more structured vaping market. And no free samples.