By Cynthia Cabrera, Executive Director, SFATA
For the past several years, vapor industry insiders and outsiders alike have opined on what the deeming regulations will mean for the industry, but none of those predictions were based in the reality that is the size and scope of this market today.
At the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association’s (SFATA) recent spring conference in Chicago, we presented nearly eight hours of back-to-back sessions examining the impact of the deeming regulations from various angles. A variety of industry stakeholders listened attentively as experts weighed in on the burdens and consequences imposed by the proposed deeming regulations.
It became quickly apparent that in addition to the regulatory and procedural roadblocks ahead, the vapor industry also suffers from external and internal challenges.
Health officials, the media, and many legislators incorrectly believe that our industry is a front for big tobacco; a new twist in the quest to hook new consumers on combustible tobacco.
Setting the Record Straight
The biggest mistake by the vapor industry was the adoption of the word “cigarette” as a way of quickly marketing to the target demographic (adult smokers). No one knew these products would quickly evolve beyond anything resembling a “cigarette” or that consumers would eschew “cig-alike” products in favor of open vapor systems that let them customize their experience.
The notion that merely having a variation of the word “cigarette” connotes these to be tobacco products, is made more disturbing by the knowledge that well-intentioned officials could cause the demise of the most disruptive consumer product introduced in more than 40 years.
Built by entrepreneurs and risk takers, this industry has changed our country in a profound way; small business owners once on the verge of bankruptcy have reinvented themselves, revitalized their lives, their neighborhoods and those of the people they employ.
The vapor industry is the embodiment of the American Dream.
The vapor industry has been growing at a breakneck pace since 2008. It is almost comical that health officials, long trained to keep a watchful eye over tobacco companies, believe big tobacco had anything to do with that growth.
Ever slow to move into this industry, there was only one acquisition by big tobacco in 2012, two limited product rollouts in 2013 and one acquisition in 2014. Compare that to the hundreds of companies that make up this industry free of any ties to tobacco and you have to wonder why that myth continues to prevail.
Internally, the e-cigarette industry also faces a staggering number of problems.
Hampered by the inability to expand on the potential solution vapor products may provide to the scourge caused by combustible tobacco, the industry must market this lifestyle product carefully. Many inaccurately focus their competitive attention on the 1% of the market they share among themselves, rather than focus on the 99% of the market waiting to be taken from big tobacco. Hobbyists are frequently confused with true manufacturers and all are painted with the same broad and damaging brush.
In short, our industry has to mature in a hurry, but the good news is that it is happening.
Last May, our organization had six members. Just a year later we have more than 140.
In November 2013, we hosted the first ever vapor products conference in Washington, D.C. The meetings were productive, but the true reward was seeing members bond, counsel and encourage each other.
This fledgling industry is giving way to smart and sophisticated players invested in preserving access to and innovation of these products while keeping their businesses alive.
Tough times are ahead, some will make it and many won’t and it is thrilling to watch them raise their professional games. They won’t go quietly. They will fight to leave a legacy and I look forward helping them achieve that goal.