(This is a long read, but it is the information you need, especially the part about what to do next. Before you just “TL/DR” it, consider reading a couple sections and coming back a few times until you get through it. It’s THAT important.)
Deeming – What Does It Mean?
Everyone is up in arms about the FDA’s final ruling issued today “deeming” vapor products as tobacco products. The short version of the impact is that thousands of tiny little companies will be subject to annual costs in the one million dollar range to prove to the FDA their products “benefit the public health”. It is obviously impossible for the majority of these companies to spend that kind of money since their total annual revenues are on average less than half that, leaving actual available cash after expenses a significantly smaller number. But it gets worse than that. One million is the FDA estimate and does not reflect in any way the real scope of the expenses.
Because of the way the “benefit to public health” must be proven, the research of a single vape juice (each nicotine strength counts as a different product) involves clinical research for every single atomizer/mod combination that can accommodate the liquid. So let’s say there is a flavor available in three strengths (currently zero milligram does’t count). Now let’s say there are about 20 mod options and 20 tank options on the market that are all interchangeable. Each mod and tank combination for each milligram is a separate study. Now add to that it takes a bare minimum of about a dozen flavors to cover the palets of most vapors. The result is clearly impossible expenses, time, and even participant pool for all the studies. Or to look at it another way, a completely closed system is the only thing that can really be studied. (A closed system is one where the power unit, atomizer, and liquid can not be interchanged with any other device. You know, like a disposable cig-alike.)
A Test Designed to Fail
And the point of the study, again, is the “benefit to PUBLIC health”, not the health of the test subjects. This means, “Spread over time and including the likelihood that one of the test subjects causes someone else, especially a minor, to become addicted to the product, what is the impact on the total population of the United States compared to other products?” This is a question that is in practical terms impossible to answer, but let’s say we were going to try. Here’s where it gets really backwards and inside out. The greater the likelihood the product could draw a user away from tobacco, the greater the likelihood it would also attract new users and probably (in FDA thinking) children. In other words, the better it works for the individual, the more detrimental it is to the public health. It is simply a test designed to always fail. (The FDA offers “guidance” on completing the application process and doing the testing on their website.)
Will I Be Able to Buy Vape Stuff?
The time table laid out has several stages. You’d need a whiteboard and two days to figure out what each step means in its entirety, but here’s the highlights:
- May 10th, 2016 – The ruling is final.
- August 8th, 2016 – This is the “effective date”. Any new product on the market must be studied and submitted to the FDA after this date or face confiscation and possibly other “enforcement” by the FDA, but products from before that date can continue to be manufactured and sold for a couple years. (Since building an RDA coil is manufacturing a vapor product, no more of that where an FDA investigator might see it.)
- August 8th, 2018 – Any product which has not been approved for sale through the impossible testing discussed above must be removed from the market (juice, tanks, mods, coils, all of it) IF there is no application pending with the FDA.
- August 8th, 2019 – Any of the products that had applications that were not yet approved must be removed from the market.
There are a few other dates in there too, but these are the most significant. My suppliers have discussed various things the Chinese manufacturers are planning, and it seems to be a marketing opportunity for them as they plan to roll out a new breed of hardware after August 8th, 2016. These new offerings are likely to see an end to interchangeable parts because of the combinations problem in testing discussed above.
(If you’re a shop owner or manufacturer, see SFATA for a more in depth breakdown of the schedule. I checked their dates against mine and was pleased to find their lawyers read it the same way I did.)
Is There Hope to Fix This Mess?
There is a lot of noise about HR2058, the Cole/Bishop Amendment to the Farm Bill, and lawsuits that all seek to move the “predicate date” to August 8th, 2016 (the effective date of the final ruling). This would mean a few important things discussed more fully at Keller Heckman, but it is not the salvation of the industry so much as a stall tactic. The FDA’s control over things like flavors that are “attractive to children” and the end to development of new open systems would be the final resting place of vaping.
If there is to be a vaping industry that is sustainable long enough for all current smokers to convert, brand new as-yet-unwritten legislation will have to be developed and pass into law. Period. There is no path where vaping is not regulated because there is too much admitted guilt in the industry about selling to minors and selling mislabeled and adulterated products. That is all now on record and there is no going back. But there are a couple more things to consider here, so keep reading.
What Is the REAL Ultimate Future of Vaping if Allowed to Exist?
Let’s cut the rhetoric for a minute and talk about reality. In a future where vaping is allowed to continue and advance, the industry goes away quietly on its own SO LONG AS there are no Big Tobacco-like tactics constantly winning new users through nefarious means. It would be several decades in the future, but vaping would eventually go away after all the current users of tobacco convert, most of which would vape until the end of their lives. Smokers and ex-smokers have already been bitten by the beast, so to speak. We’ve smoked and now it is part of our life. Some vapers get off nicotine, but it is definitely not the majority and perhaps even a tiny minority of the customers at our shop. They tend to settle at a tiny 1.5 mg per milliliter nicotine concentration, but they keep coming.
So why would the industry die after all the current smokers are gone? First, let’s look at what’s happening right in front of us. Vaping is flat out better than smoking. It feels better right now today and the long term health improvements are a secondary consideration. That means tobacco sales will continue to decline if vaping continues to advance. It means less tobacco circulating in the world and in FDA terms, it means the public health is benefited through lack of first-person implied recommendation (doing something because you see someone else doing it).
But what about minors? Minors like to test their limits. They want to go rogue and the fact is, smoking is a very popular act of rebellion. Minors are not the only source of peer pressure either. Some adults become smokers after going to work in an environment dominated by smokers. I can not possibly say this with enough emphasis: Because zero nicotine vape options are available and do not “burn the back of the throat”, they are the overwhelming choice of curious new users. Since there are no addictive properties to these nicotine-free vape options, there is nothing but ritualistic habits to break to put them down. Minors get bored with fads. Workers in vape-heavy environments can keep a zero nicotine set up in their locker at work without ever taking it home. The endless cycle is broken because of this one undeniable difference in vaping and smoking. There is evidence from the Royal College of Physicians in a very recent publication my assertion here is completely valid even though they don’t mention the zero nicotine angle.
What’s Our Problem?
(Reviewers note: It is at this point in the article one of my trusted reviewers said, “Vapers strung out on ‘screw the FDA’ and ‘you never smoked so you can’t understand vaping’ will get lost in their own anger.” If there’s a chance she’s talking about you, please understand that we completely get you, and are with you, but try to read on no matter how uncomfortable it gets. We have to end our helplessness to end your anger and the key is below if you can make yourself read it.)
A major problem with vaping is also the reason it has been such a rapidly expanding success. Vaping is accurately described within the vaping community as a consumer created solution. The real drivers of development of vaping technology are user/owners like me and our customers. That’s a huge plus for not being a predator industry. But the downside is none of us went to (the nonexistent) school for being in the vape business and the majority of vape shop owners I know personally have never owned a business of any kind. By and large, we as an industry are amateurs. The way vape shops fight with each other, the way destructive members of the vaping community affect both businesses and people within the community, and even the way vape shops continue to buy hardware from manufacturers who circumvent us by selling direct-to-consumer at prices we can not offer with B&M expenses, are all minor issues compared to the real missing element: experience with the inevitable entanglement of big business and government.
Believe me, some in the fringes of the vaping industry have that experience, but they are unfortunately not the thousands of small shops who have rocketed vaping to a truly shocking threat to Big Tobacco. The ones with experience either are Big Tobacco or wish to become Big Vaping. They are out there doing what actually works and the proof is simply we-the-little-guys are losing. But it gets worse. We keep doing the same things over and over and we keep losing. We have to stop, turn a corner, and do what works.
How Are We Losing When We Are Right?
In my former life, I did a lot of work, work I am so ashamed of I tried for years to pretend it never happened, in an industry called “public relations”. “Public relations” is a euphemism for “propaganda”. Propaganda aims to move the hearts of a population towards a goal of some kind. It is seldom used for anything good, but it does happen occasionally. The mechanism for this change of hearts is to identify emotional trigger points shared commonly by the targeted population and exploit them through misdirection to form a new or modified opinion of the goal. In other words, it’s about manipulating people to get something out of them.
What does that have to do with vaping? It’s all around us. It’s what the winners are doing to make us into losers by way of news and “studies” about antifreeze, formaldehyde, popcorn lung, and exploding batteries. In amateur form, we are expecting to present the true merit of our industry to people with power and have that be enough. We think we can go to court without sitting in the court of public opinion. We think we can call our politicians and reason with them without them having voter opinions to consider.
There are many champions of our industry who have stepped up to take action, but sadly, they continue to follow the amateur path while the pros crush us into the mold of “dirty drug pushers who are douche bags, target our children, and have no regard for public safety”. The preceding in quotes is known as “the narrative”. It is repeated and reinforced through “optics”, the news stories slanted towards the narrative. Sometimes the news is manufactured, like invalid studies, and sometimes it’s naturally occurring like a kid putting a battery in his pocket with his keys. The goal is obvious: Make sure vaping can be crushed without resistance by the public.
We Actually Have an Advantage and Time to Use It
We may have about two years to get vaping separated from the current tobacco laws. There might be some help from a predicate date change that could prolong the period. It is important to remember that the FDA’s hands are not tied by their “final” ruling. There are many parts of the ruling leaving them open to taking further actions to restrict specific parts of vaping before the two years are up. They have graciously decided to give us those two years, but it is an arbitrary schedule they have the authority to revise. If the two years stand and we get started down the correct path, we actually have time to turn this around. In a PR battle, the clear advantage goes to the side with moral superiority. On vaping’s side is an end to tobacco death and on the other side is a perpetual continuation of tobacco death, therefor we have the advantage. We just have to step up and start using it.
Building A New Narrative
The first rule of PR is to find the emotional angle that makes your case. The key word here is “emotional”. It has nothing to do with making sense and nothing bears that out like our constant defeats. In fact, the less it makes sense, the better because thought disrupts emotion. So we need to clear the board and start with the most basic question: “In the realm of the vaping debate, what is the largest segment of the public emotional about?” That’s easy: They hate smoking, and it’s a deep, almost violent hate.
A lot of vapers and certainly current smokers have a certain blindness to the deep disgust the smell of smoke inspires in a nonsmoker or former smoker. The hate of that smell is so strong in fact, it commonly crosses a sensory barrier to create the imagined smell of smoke from just the sight of smoke across a room or parking lot. The crossing of that sensory barrier is how vapers got swept up in the hatred for smokers. We all watched it happen. Most of us have even been confronted by an angry nonsmoker over our vapor. (Of course there are other reasons to hate smoking like the loss of a loved one, but we want the most common for our purposes.)
This hatred is the pivotal trigger that allows our adversaries to manipulate and sometimes even manufacture news into increased negative sentiment towards vapers. The way this works is simple. When most people have a belief, especially an emotional belief, everything they experience is naturally absorbed in a way that reinforces that belief. Anything that contradicts their belief is discarded or even used to create an imagined attacker. They call this bending of fact to match the current belief structure “the lens”, thus the term “optics” mentioned above for visible bait to adjust beliefs.
Consider the following two scenarios:
Scenario 1 – Acceptance Lens
Belief: Smoking stinks and is therefor evil.
Experience: See headline “Smoking Kills Almost Half a Million Americans Yearly”.
Reaction: See I was right!
New Belief: Smoking stinks and kills people and is therefor evil.
Scenario 2 – Resistance Lens
Belief: Smoking helps me deal with my stress and is therefor good.
Experience: See headline “Smoking Kills Almost Half a Million Americans Yearly”.
Reaction: That’s a lie! My uncle’s ex-wife’s college roommate’s brother smoked from 3 years old and he lived to be 117!
New Belief: Smoking helps me deal with my stress and people tell lies to take it away from me. Those people are my enemy and I will fight against them.
Propaganda works almost solely because of this naturally occurring phenomenon. If you identify the pivotal trigger and understand this model of always bending information on the way in to fit what is already there, you can sway large populations quickly and with minimal effort. Again, if you’re having trouble swallowing this, just look at what has happened to us already.
Looking for Lenses
Lenses come in two forms, acceptance and resistance, as shown in the examples. (You’d be surprised how many times the resistance model is used to manipulate public opinion.) We have the main trigger and I’m sure you’re thinking of a few more, so the next step is thinking about existing beliefs vaping either supports or contradicts. This is too big of a process for anyone to want to read about so I’m not going to discuss the way these lenses were selected, but you will see they are indeed the way nonsmokers feel. “Feel” is the key here. This is their emotional stance. I’m sure when most vapers read this list they will be outraged and go straight for “that is just stupid”. Resist the urge to stop reading and just take it in because this is the key ring to our castle.
Beliefs about smoking:
- Smoking stinks
- Smoking kills
- I don’t want my children/family members to stink or die
- I don’t want people to smoke anywhere I might smell them
- Smoking should not exist
- Someone should do something about smoking
- Tobacco companies are evil because they lied to consumers and now the whole world smells bad and people are dying
- Smokers are bad because they stink and they will make my children want to smoke
- Smokers are bad because they know smoking is bad and they do it anyway
- Smokers are rude because they stink near me on purpose
- Smokers are junkies using an illicit drug around me and my children
Beliefs about vaping:
- Vaping is smoking because it looks just like it therefor all things about smokers are true about vapers
- Vapers are just trying to skirt rules to get away with smoking
- Vaping is even more dangerous than smoking because I heard news
- Vaping causes explosions like terrorists
- Vapers are even ruder than smokers because they blow smoke where I am supposed to be protected from it
- Vapers are criminals because they blow smoke in places where it is against the law
- Vapers are barbarians because they get together and beat their chests and compete to see who can be the most disgusting for prizes
- Vapers want my children and loved ones to stink and die
- Vaping makes it easier to smoke because it’s cheaper and sneakier
- Vapers are harder to stop from killing my loved ones because their kind of smoking is much sneakier
- Vapers are satanists because all the pictures of vapers have tattoos on their faces and bones through their noses
- The FDA is saving us from this new kind of smoking
If you’re like me, you might need to take a minute to calm down after reading that second list. But at the same time, absorb the reality of it. It is filled with complete inaccuracies and extreme distortions. But the amateur way to deal with these inaccuracies is to simply try to cry out with the truth. If that worked, I would not need to spend days writing this.
After you get past that, there is something much bigger and more important to notice. Many of the things on that list are the result of propaganda work. Little stories here and there, images specifically selected for headlines, comments by political and public figures, and even Leonardo DiCaprio can be found in that list now that you know what to see in it. Our job, if we want to take vaping back, is to fight emotional appeal with emotional appeal and that means developing the right narrative and pushing the optics it takes to reach these lenses and change them to our morally superior position.
The New Narrative, Our Only Hope
A few paragraphs ago, before you had the information to completely appreciate the depth of it, I mentioned the current narrative, “Vapers are dirty drug pushers who are douche bags, target our children, and have no regard for public safety.” With only a few paragraphs of reading, you are now armed to more fully understand how this narrative has been lurking all around us. You also have the power to understand how countering this narrative with a more powerful, more morally superior narrative, can create the foundation for the missing support we should have from the government.
I’ve spent over a year developing a very specific narrative which has been modified along the way to answer new attacks and even new problems within our vaping community. This narrative creates the common focal point to undo the damage that has been done through the existing anti-vaping propaganda (the “Beliefs about vaping” list above). It also creates a bedrock that prevents future attacks by making the anti-vaping propaganda resisted rather than accepted (the two scenarios above). We need anti-vaping to be perceived as identifying an enemy rather than proving the nonsmoking public is correct in their current beliefs. It’s a complicated concept, but basically, right now if someone says something bad about vaping to a nonsmoker, the nonsmoker automatically agrees. With the new narrative, rather than agreeing, the nonsmoker would see whoever said the anti-vaping thing as an enemy.
That narrative is simply this:
“Nonsmokers’ disgust with smoking is so righteous, it has created a new form of nonsmoking which has the power to completely end the stench and death of smoking for the children and all of America. Nonsmokers must protect their victory from tobacco companies and their allies so we can all finally be free of this horrible embarrassment from our past.”
Resist the urge to decry the inaccuracies of this narrative. Remember the narrative exists to create a consistent position that all optics must be able to bend towards, through the emotional lenses of either supporting or resisting existing beliefs. The point of this narrative is to:
- Make a nonsmoker feel validated through the success of vaping.
- Put the nonsmoker in the position of champion of vaping. They made it, it’s their baby, they will automatically protect it.
- Connect the dots that vapers are on the side of ending tobacco permanently and are therefor allies of and even part of the nonsmoking public.
- Point a finger at tobacco companies and, without naming them, the government and pharmaceutical companies who protect tobacco sales.
- Offers up social redemption, a powerful concept, to a country that did too little too late to stop tobacco.
If you go compare this narrative to each of the listed things the nonsmoking majority hates about smoking and incorrectly hates about vaping, you will see how each point is open to a change of perspective about vaping through this narrative.
(There is a second narrative needed to approach the current smokers. I have that narrative too, and it is an incredibly important topic, just one that falls outside the realm of how to save vaping. There will be another article as soon as possible about that narrative.)
Changing the Optics to Support a New Narrative
So now let us envision a world where our narrative is king. Let us imagine what kinds of things must pass before the public’s eyes to help them transition from their current incorrect beliefs to our morally superior beliefs. To get into the correct frame of mind, consider the existing body of propaganda against us, antifreeze, popcorn lung, formaldehyde, exploding batteries, and more or less being declared outlaws by the FDA. We can not, MUST NOT, respond to any of this, but rather, look at how they did it as a function of having their narrative and then supporting it. Now we have our narrative, how do we support it?
We have many studies about the safety of vaping. We have lots of information, some of it even funded by the FDA, some of it even said directly by the FDA in their final ruling, to support our position. We don’t have to manufacture any of that, but all of it is only second wave ammunition behind the first and most important step. We must first get news out to get the nonsmoking majority to claim vaping as their victory over smoking.
Getting Real Ammunition into Real Cannons
In the propaganda business, real ammunition comes in a few distinct forms. They all target emotional appeal over thoughtful appeal. They are words or deeds of celebrities, common figure heads, unsung heroes, clowns, super-villains, icons, and even fluffy kitty cats or cartoon characters of fluffy kitty cats. The softer, the squishier, the more heart strings that can be plucked, the more effective the ammunition is.
There are both positive and negative angles to use. Think about this negative optic: If we can get a super-villain to say, “I hate vaping because it is a result of the pressure self-righteous nonsmokers put on smokers and it’s going to kill an entire industry of hard working tobacco executives,” we have scored a solid hit. (Vapers will at that point need to bite their tongues and remain silent so as not to shoot us all in our collective heads.) Suddenly, this statement has united nonsmokers everywhere in a victory against this super-villain and tobacco executives. The vaping industry “nonsmokers created” becomes an achievement. If someone tries to hurt that little tidbit of self-validation, they are now the enemy. Enemies of vaping are now enemies of nonsmokers. It’s important to note this has always been true, but now there is a way for them to understand it based on their own emotional belief system.
In the way of celebrities, it is very doubtful Leonardo’s public vaping has done us any good. Since the only ones fighting a propaganda battle at this point are the anti-vaping side, it is most likely to have ultimately done harm because they are the only ones using it outside of the vape community. If you compare “Leo Spotted Vaping at Awards” to our narrative, it falls flat because it fails to connect with the majority. However if you compare it to the lens list “Beliefs about vaping” above, you’ll see his vaping was most likely seen as incredibly rude and possibly criminal by the majority. I don’t bring this up to slam Leo, but rather to make the point Leo is probably the first thing that came to most readers’ minds and is in the completely wrong direction for our goals.
Instead we need famous nonsmokers to step up and do noticeable things, things irresistible to the media, to connect vaping as a victory to nonsmokers. It can’t be something bland like a press conference where some actor just smacks down, “Yay us, we win because VAPING!” Imagine, instead, a celebrity couple forming a charity called the “Make America Smell Good Again Foundation for Vaping” because the husband used vaping to finally stop smoking. The celebrity wife feels so accomplished that she and the American people created an environment that encouraged him to find a way to quit that actually works. Vaping is therefor the direct result of America’s commitment to ending the death and stench of smoking. “Nonsmokers are winning and vaping is how we are doing it!!” See the narrative? Again, we vapers will need to bite our tongues hard as people who hassled us as smokers get to actually celebrate a victory because of our better choices.
Finally, My Call to Action to You
Unfortunately, none of these scenarios can actually play out without the characters. As an industry of tiny players, we don’t have the individual resources to go out and get them. I’m sure some of the hopeful Big Vaping people will read this article and get all giddy about it, but here’s the interesting part about the position we’re in: They are not big enough to pull it off, but as a community the rest of us are. We just have to understand who we are trying to find and get them to come into our fold.
Here are the tangible things everyone can absolutely, realistically do to save vaping, our lives, and the lives of generations to come:
Action 1: Continue to do whatever CASAA recommends, without fail. (CASAA, I’m putting a lot of faith in you, please do not lose your way.)
Action 2: Make it your personal mission to get to know the narrative I presented here. Help the nonsmokers around you see the things that happen on the news through our morally superior narrative. Talk to nonsmokers about how much you appreciate them applying the pressure it took to the community for vaping to finally rise as a working solution. Thank them for creating vaping. Thank them again for vaping saving your life. Thank them again for our whole country smelling better. Then thank them for the part they played in putting an end to tobacco… as long as the tobacco companies don’t figure out how to use the government to ruin all their accomplishments.
Action 3: Keep your eyes wide open and please let me know if you see something happen that could help this narrative on a large scale as a media opportunity. Look for the “optics” and if you see something, say something. You can email or call. I will speak to just about anyone anytime to help save vaping.
Action 4: Propaganda does not work without the media, and I don’t mean media within vaping. We need access to local and national news reporters who are sympathetic to vaping because they understand it has the power to kill tobacco for good. We need them to be ready to present the optics to the public as quickly as the optics can be discovered by our vaping community. If you know a reporter, please ask them to contact me to get on our press wire.
Action 5: Do not panic, do not lose hope. The FDA just waded into much deeper waters than they thought. If we take these actions, things will get increasingly easier for us and increasingly impossible for them. Ultimately, the FDA should want that because, as they repeated dozens of times in their final order, it is their job to protect the public health. They have simply taken a wrong turn we can help them correct.
Vape on and stay strong,