Lucas Anderson, Billings vape shop owner

LUCAS ANDERSON

When the Food and Drug Administration declared that vapor products (electronic cigarettes) were tobacco products on Aug. 8, they set in motion a two-year march towards the prohibition on the sale and availability of the products in the United States. As someone who successfully quit using traditional tobacco products in July 2013 and as the owner of a vape shop in Billings, I am asking Congress to intervene when they return to Washington after November’s elections.

Sens. Jon Tester, Steve Daines, and Rep. Ryan Zinke have already demonstrated a helpful understanding of this government overreach, as co-sponsors of legislation that would exempt cigars from FDA oversight. 

Unlike cigars, vapor products don’t contain tobacco or even smoke. They’re shown to be at least 95 percent less harmful than combustible cigarettes according to the Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England, and they’re actually helping millions of smokers quit. As the owner of uBlaze Vapor, I meet smokers every day who try vapor products for the first time and never use cigarettes again. They’re able to get the nicotine without the tar and harmful effects of smoke.

Unfortunately, the recent decision by the FDA to “deem” vapor products as tobacco will force me to close my business and fire my 10 employees in less than two years. My path towards a tobacco-free life through a small business aimed at providing adult consumers with alternative choices may all come crumbling down. That is, unless Congress acts soon.

Over the next two years, the FDA will require every vapor product on the market to undergo a retroactive pre-approval process in order to remain on the market. No cigarette maker ever had to undergo this process, which was established in 2009 with the Tobacco Control Act and was designed to prevent new tobacco products like cigarettes from hitting the market in the future.

Even if the companies that provide different products to my shop could spend thousands of hours and afford the millions of dollars it will take to submit what is known as a Pre-Market Tobacco Application, there is no guarantee that the FDA will approve a single product currently on the market for sale beyond 2018. Absent a stamp of approval from the FDA, the agency has said it will begin seizing products from stores.

When the TCA passed in 2009, Congress granted permission for every tobacco product on the market on Feb. 15, 2007 (the predicate date), to remain on the market forever. New tobacco products had to get permission to be sold. Unfortunately, entrepreneurship and the FDA’s definition of “tobacco” are now at odds, with tens of thousands of businesses and former smokers (vapers) in the crosshairs.

This spring, the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would partially address the pending prohibition. An amendment sponsored by Reps. Tom Cole, R-Okl., and Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., would change the predicate date for vapor products from February of 2007 to August of 2016 (when e-cigarettes were officially deemed as tobacco). 

I opened uBlaze Vapor to help smokers looking for alternatives to the ineffective nicotine patch, gum, lozenge, or pharmaceutical drugs. We’ve helped countless 20 and 30-year smokers finally kick their unhealthy habit. And the FDA wants to take that away, a move that would reverse decades of progress in the fight against smoking.

This industry supports regulations like a ban on the sale of products to minors, the requirement that companies disclose ingredients in the products they sell, and even some limitations on advertising. To treat vapor products more harshly than cigarettes, however, makes little sense. The Cole-Bishop amendment achieves these goals without destroying an entire industry.

We need Tester, Daines and Zinke to urge House and Senate Leadership to include the Cole-Bishop language in the end-of-year omnibus package. Jobs and public health are at stake.

Lucas Anderson is a member of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association.

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