A Response to the Potential Convenience E-Cig Ban

By iSEE’s Marketing Director, Melissa Vonder Haar

Despite six-plus years of covering the tobacco category within the convenience channel, I’ve remained largely silent on the slew of recent news about an e-cig epidemic and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s promise to take action.

Until now.

We got news this morning through the Washington Post that the FDA is planning to target the convenience channel by banning e-cig flavors and pod products from our class of trade, but not for vape shops, online outlets and other retailers.

Here’s what NACS had to say:

“To make progress on the issue of minors obtaining e-cigarettes, the FDA should work cooperatively with organizations like We Card and NACS that provide age verification training to tens of thousands of retailers and it should enforce the law against the most questionable actors that it has typically ignored,” said Lyle Beckwith, NACS senior vice president for government relations. “The FDA has refused to share the data it has on the inspections it has carried out of vape shops and other stores that would allow the industry to evaluate and address any shortcomings.

I could rant for a very long time about the flaws in this plan—and why the agency might be choosing an easy way out of a PR nightmare—but for right now, it is CRUCIAL that anyone associated with the convenience industry act. Even if you don’t sell vape, even if you manufacturer another product, this is a horrible precedent to set. They are talking about banning the latest innovation in vaping from our channel specifically: can you imagine if, when the FDA started regulating cigarettes, they said that some retailers could sell cigarettes but our channel couldn’t? And who’s to say they’ll stop with vape? Why not alcohol, soda or sugary snacks?

NACS has made it easy to contact your representatives. Just click here: https://www.votervoice.net/NACS/campaigns/61610/respond

I submitted my comments earlier today. Here’s what I had to say (feel free to cut and paste…though you’ll likely need to cut back on the word count!):

“There are reports that the FDA will ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and certain types of e-cig devices in convenience stores. Before the agency is allowed to target a specific channel of trade, I’d hope you’d demand they address the following:

  • WHERE IS THE DATA TO SUPPORT TRADE PROHIBITION?: FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has claimed that convenience stores had a poor rate of carding for electronic cigarettes, while vape shops excelled. Yet he’s provided no data. As recently as this summer, more than 96% of convenience retailers passed FDA inspection for carding minors attempting to purchase electronic cigarettes. We have seen no data on the compliance rate of vape shops or online outlets. If these outlets are averaging higher than a 96% compliance rate, shouldn’t the FDA be touting that?
  • WHAT ARE THEY DOING ABOUT SOCIAL SOURCES: The findings of the FDA-sponsored Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study showed the youth e-cig epidemic isn’t coming from convenience stores, vape shops OR online outlets.  For electronic cigarettes,15- to 17-year-olds reported that 89% of the time they relied on social sources, including giving someone else money to buy e-cigarettes (17%), buying e-cigarettes from another person or taking e-cigarettes from someone or from a retail store (6%), asking someone else for e-cigarettes or being offered e-cigarettes from someone (57%) or obtaining e-cigarettes from some other non-retail source (10%). Only 11% of these underage youth reported buying e-cigarettes themselves.

That means at the very best, banning certain electronic cigarette products from convenience stores will prevent one minor out of ten from accessing e-cigs. NINE out of ten will still be able to. Yet, nothing has been said or done about this issue (which might include limiting how many e-cigs an individual can purchase, as there’s been a slew of people purchasing hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of product at once…much more than could be consumed personally).

If these issues are not addressed, the FDA’s proposed plan to restrict who can and can’t sell electronic cigarette products won’t do much of anything to reduce youth usage but WILL punish an entire class of trade that has an excellent history of compliance safely and legally selling age-restricted products.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.”