Vaping AdvocateMay 2nd, 2018
What I’ve seen has been good, bad, and unfortunately a lot of recent ugly. I don’t consider myself as having been at the 2007 forefront, but I do consider myself an early pioneer in the premium e-liquid space. Having started in early 2012, Chinese hardware had already been in existence for many years and they were heating one dimensional liquids (like apple, cherry, and grape) through 2.0 ohm clearomizer and cartomizer tanks at 12 watts. Those were actually the good old days. Days when a 30ml bottle of 12mg or 18mg e-liquid would last a week or more. Those were times when a young industry was built on unity, community, education, and the focus of converting the smoker. My play in 2012 was to create complex (multidimensional) e-liquid profiles that were considered premium and different than anything else that had been coming from China. This was the birth of Five Pawns and what sparked a radical shift in e-liquid as we knew it. I’m not going to say that I started it but I was definitely doing things differently and helping to lead a movement.
Needless to say, I’ve seen and experienced a lot. I’ve seen the boom of ever increasing competition that I always welcomed, vape shops popping up on every corner, and an industry grow rapidly to keep up with demand while continuing to provide more options to the smoker. We were actually seeing smoking rates decline at accelerated rates and it was like a miniature version of the dot com boom that we were right smack dab in the middle of. I found myself trying to steer a ship of responsibility. Continuing to set the bar higher with better manufacturing practices, quality ingredients, proper branding, marketing, and supporting as many advocacy efforts as we could. I found myself meeting with the FDA and providing information to them as they grappled to get their arms around something that they’d eventually regulate. Hind sight is 20 / 20 but I knew from day one that I wanted to build something that would have to eventually pass FDA scrutiny. Most followed suit in the early days but I’m afraid things today have gone in the opposite direction in many respects.
People got greedy and most forgot about the smoker. People were making money hand over fist as I slowly watched egos take over. New money changed people and brought a lot of people into the fray that cared nothing about anything else but… money. Trade magazines started popping up all over the place, trade shows and conventions started being scheduled every week, social media platforms began to develop “pay to promote” platforms, and everyone became a “distributor”. The one thing they all had in common was that they’d accept money to help promote new irresponsible brands. All these forms of exposure were there for brands to be seen or discovered by stores, consumers, and distributors. How could one be seen more than an other? Hit them with “shock and awe”. Who could be more outrageous? Who would sell for less just to get into retail doors? Who could command the most (often negative) attention? Copyright infringement, blatant cloning, a lack of ethics & morals, nudity, poor taste, cartoon graphics, vape tricks, cloud competitions, and poorly constructed e-liquid that introduced outrageous amounts of artificial sweeteners. Hey… what happened to the smoker and what did any of this have to do with them?? Nothing.
Hardware was the tail that wagged the dog and sent the e-liquid industry to circle the drain. New hardware was arriving from China daily. Ohm ratings dropped, wattage and temperatures increased, and suddenly that bottle that used to last over a week… was only lasting a mere couple of days because it was being heated so rapidly. Nicotine strengths had to drop because 12mg or 18mg liquid at such high temperatures were no longer tolerable on the throat. Suddenly high VG liquids took over in 3mg nicotine strengths because that was all you could use in what stores were selling as 60 watt “starter kits”. It turned ugly quick. E-liquid prices fell like communism while vessel sizes increased and margins were squeezed. E-liquid became a commodity and everything started tasting overly sweet. What happened to the craft? What happened to being different? What happened to morals and ethics? What happened to the smoker?
All this started being looked at by governing bodies. Politicians and the FDA alike were watching this implosion by the vapor products industry and it gave a black eye to tobacco harm reduction. Money and greed paved the path that we all find ourselves tip toeing down today. Products designed to appease those bored with what was working, shifted to appealing toward copyright infringement, youth, and those persuaded by “shock and awe”. There has been a blatant disregard for new products entering the market after August 8th, 2016 and the industry has found itself continuing to sell products to the same people at each convention, the same readers of the industry rags, and the same social media audiences. Everything has become about what is new, new, new. The new that was missing was the new smoker converting to vapor products. Hell, why would a smoker want to convert when it looks like such a circus. Have you googled “vaping” lately and clicked on the image tab? Our own industry gave fuel to regulation because of it’s own improper behavior. It’s true that one bad apple can spoil the bushel but only a few good apples amongst a spoiled bushel makes it spoil even that much faster.
The craft seems to have gone. Despite that, vapor products have still managed to be given a half nod from the FDA as an alternative to combustible tobacco. Not harm elimination but harm reduction. Real money being invested by professionals is upon us. They’re coming to legitimize everything that this industry has failed to do on its own. Have we blown a great opportunity? An opportunity and future that I saw as bright in 2013 appears to have clouded. Things are being spoiled by greed, ego, drama, and unethical business practices. The good news is that smoking rates have continued to decline. The leading cause of death in this world continues to be offset. I believe a lot of that is due to the big tobacco companies themselves. They saw what most in our industry were doing wrong and they’ve begun to capitalize on our collective mistakes. They’ve built (and bought) better mousetraps that are more convenient, less intimidating, and could potentially take business away from the vape shops. I don’t want to see this happen because authorized Five Pawns retail locations are in this for all the same reason we are. They have passion, see value in diverse pricing, place importance on responsibility, brand, and the smoker. I wish everyone understood it like many that I’m proud to call “partner”. I’m afraid too many out there are doing things poorly and the quality / professional vape shops seem fewer and far between. Keeping smokers off cigarettes isn’t done with a $350 burl wood custom mod and a high end rebuildable dripper. It’s done with convenience and professionalism. I’m afraid the other stuff is only for the hobbyist or enthusiast market that doesn’t seem to be growing today. It’s not for the smoker. Even the starter kits purchased in vape shops today aren’t convenient. There are too many options. Too many devices, too many tanks, too many atomizers, too many coils, too many batteries, and too many flavor options. Great for the enthusiast… too much for the average every day smoker.
So how can we change this course? It starts with the employee behind the counter and the buyer responsible for dictating what he or she sells to the person looking to convert. Stop buying on hype. Buy from companies supplying products that are going to be here for the smoker long after 2022. Buy responsible tobacco harm reduction products that are geared toward converting the smoker. Simplify the sale, simplify your vast product offering and support those devoted to the future. Your future lies with the smoker. Devote your business to them and change the ugly path this industry finds itself going down today. It’s not too late for the vapor products industry to change its perception, become the credible technology it is, and thrive in the years ahead. We need to collectively make change and that change needs to start now. We can do this. This tiger can change its stripes and we can continue to push forward what I believe is the single most beneficial technology to public health of anything seen in the past 50 years. Like I said in the beginning of this piece, “I’ve seen good” but I’m all in and hopeful to see GREAT.
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