For years, Philip Roseman attempted to kick his decades-long smoking habit. When he successfully switched from traditional tobacco cigarettes to electronic cigarettes, he ended up switching careers as well.
Roseman, 51, opened The Five Ten Vape Shoppe in Forest Hills in 2012 after he started vaping, which is the term for inhaling and exhaling vapor from nicotine-infused liquids heated in a handheld device known as an electronic cigarette.
E-cigarette shops like Roseman’s sell highly customizable vaping peripherals that range in size and type, along with liquids of varying levels of nicotine strength and flavor – from tobacco-flavored imitations, to flavors like “Milky Fruit” and “Chocolate-Frosted Cookie.”
But Roseman’s business, like many others across the country, could soon be up in smoke.
The Future of E-Cigarettes?
On Aug. 8, the FDA announced new rules requiring e-cigarette products to undergo extensive testing before reaching the market, a lengthy and expensive process that could drive up the price of e-cigarette products and put stores like Roseman’s out of business.
If the new regulations stay as written, “there will be no vape shops in the United States,” Roseman said. “We will all be gone.”
The regulations require the testing of all tobacco products that entered the market after Feb. 15, 2007. This rule wouldn’t apply to most traditional tobacco products, which have been on the market in their current forms for decades.
“You could call this cigarette protectionist legislation,” said Michael Siegel, a smoking policy and tobacco researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health.
“The government is essentially protecting cigarette sales by eliminating this threat,” Siegel said.
What This Means for Retailers
Siegel believes the newly required pre-market testing could ultimately cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per product, preventing owners from stocking their shelves and essentially freezing product innovation and competition. Since most e-cigarette stores sell dozens – if not hundreds – of different products, business owners could be forced to spend millions of dollars to maintain current inventory levels.
“We’re talking about small businesses for the most part, like vape shops and small manufacturers,” Siegel said. “The only companies that are left are going to be the really large ones, which tend to be the tobacco companies.”
E-cigarettes have rapidly proliferated as an alternative to tobacco in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, e-cigarette usage grew from 1 percent of U.S. adults in 2010 to 3.7 percent in 2014. A plurality of e-cigarette converts switched from traditional cigarettes: 22 percent of recent former smokers currently use e-cigarettes.
At the same time, the total number of smokers has declined from 20.9 percent of American adults in 2005 to less than 17 percent in 2014.
While many users claim e-cigarettes are effective smoking cessation devices, medical opinions on their health benefits are far from unanimous. A study published in 2016 by the Royal College of Physicians in Britain concluded that e-cigarettes are only 5 percent as harmful as tobacco cigarettes. The study’s authors championed the nicotine alternative as “a massive opportunity for a consumer as well as a health care-led revolution in the way that nicotine is used in society.”
In contrast, a 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine warned that vaping at high temperatures can cause users to ingest carcinogenic chemicals like formaldehyde.
Critics have said the temperatures used in that study were far higher than the average user would be able to tolerate, making the findings unrepresentative of the actual effects of e-cigarettes.
But it was personal experience, not research findings, that convinced Roseman to open his e-cigarette business. A pack-a-day smoker for 26 years, Roseman’s introduction to e-cigarettes was a turning point after a lifetime of failed alternatives.
“I had tried the patch, I had tried the gum, I had tried the inhaler, and I went right back to smoking every single time,” Roseman said. But then he tried an e-cigarette.
“In the same day, I stopped smoking,” he said.
The new federal rules exacerbate the obstacles already in place for New York City business owners. A 2013 expansion of the Smoke Free Air Act, for instance, subjected e-cigarettes to many of the same restrictions as tobacco cigarettes, increasing the minimum purchase age to 21 and prohibiting e-cigarette use in “virtually all workplaces and indoor recreational venues.”
Business owners in the city are also no longer allowed to offer samples of different liquid flavors without additional transaction fees, and employees are limited in their ability to adjust customers’ hardware.
Though their future is uncertain, owners like Roseman plan to continue operating their e-cigarette stores.
“I plan on staying here as long as I can,” Roseman said. “I have no intention of closing my store unless the government forces me to close my store.”