While combustible cigarette sales dwarfs that of e-cigs and vaping products at a rate of 11 to one — $55.5 billion to 4.2 billion — the electronic smoking device segment is growing. E-cigarette sales having risen 148.7%, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI’s U.S. Convenience Store All Scan Data for the 52 weeks ending July 14, 2019. Unit sales have nearly doubled, the report said.
While there is strong sentiment in the vaping community that e-cigarette use is a valid and effective alternative to combustible cigarettes, regulators at the state and local levels have expressed worries about underage vaping, saying that flavored vape products attract use by minors.
“There are proposals to ban flavored e-cigarettes,” said Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, “and there are proposals to ban all flavored tobacco in several jurisdictions around New York state — and I expect that we’ll see more of them.”
Indeed, on Sept. 15, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will ask his health commissioner to direct the state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council to issue an emergency regulation to ban sales of flavored e-cigarettes there, effective as soon as early October.
The move in New York follows a new warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is giving municipalities seeking to ban e-cigs more ammunition.
In early September, the CDC announced it was launching an investigation after a reported 450 possible cases of severe pulmonary disease and five deaths in 33 states associated with e-cigarette product (devices, liquids, refill pods, and/or cartridges) use. No specific product or substance has been identified as the cause. That number doubled rapidly from the 215 cases reported at the end of August.
The uptick prompted the CDC to issue a warning: “While this investigation is ongoing, consider not using e-cigarette products,” the CDC’s website said. “Adults who do not currently use tobacco products should not start using e-cigarette products. … Adult smokers who are attempting to quit should use evidence-based treatments, including counseling and FDA-approved medications.”
Time will tell if the warnings from the CDC spur more local bans, impact e-cig sales or send vapers who switched from traditional cigarettes back to combustible cigarettes. Former smokers are known to make up a large contingent of vapers.
“The evidence grows stronger every month that vaping products are more effective than traditional nicotine replacement therapy products like the nicotine gum and patch at helping smokers give up cigarettes,” said Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association. “Multiple population level studies are showing that vast numbers of ex-smokers are vaping now.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Sept. 11 that it will finalize a compliance policy in the coming weeks to prioritize the enforcement of the premarket authorization (PMA) requirements for non-tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes.
The FDA said that all electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) products currently on the market are not being legally marketed and are subject to government action.
Other e-cig flavor bans are picking up steam. Michigan became the first state to ban the sale of flavored vaping and e-cigarettes when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month ordered the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to enact emergency rules banning the sale of flavored vaping products for six months.
In June, the city of San Francisco outlawed the sales of all e-cigarettes that have not undergone premarket review by the FDA — which none have — effective January 2020.
Around the same time, Beverly Hills, Calif., passed a ban on the sales of all tobacco products in that city, effective Jan. 1, 2021. Boulder, Colo., passed a flavored vaping ban in September, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.
“As far as regulations, especially here in Colorado recently, we’re starting to see more local municipalities, cities and towns looking at (minimum age to purchase of) 21 and flavor bans,” said Tim Greene, category director with Smoker Friendly, which has 105 stores across Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and Florida.
Boulder has also proposed a ballot measure to get voter approval to levy taxes of 40% on the tobacco-flavored vaping products allowed to remain in local shops.
But with a patchwork of legislative restrictions coming from all levels of government, what can retailers do to assure their voices are heard?
“Number one, they need to be aware … and tuned in to what’s happening in their local community from a government standpoint,” said Calvin, “so that when tobacco restrictions are proposed or introduced at the city or village or county level, that they have an early awareness and have the opportunity to have input as early in the process as possible. That’s critically important.”