You may have already seen this article’s companion piece, “When Harm Reduction is a Crime: Tobacco, E-Cigarettes, and the World’s Most Unnecessary Black Market”. That piece describes the potential for an emerging black market in DIY tobacco, nicotine, and vaping products in jurisdictions that try to ban or heavily control them.
There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the FDA’s proposed regulations on e-cigarettes and e-liquids. Some speculate that if the FDA’s expansive regulations are accepted as-is, they will virtually gut the vaping industry as we know it, slowing innovation and market growth for an emerging alternative to smoking. This alternative may not be entirely harmless, but is almost certainly less harmful than the traditional cigarettes the FDA continues to certify for market.
We here at Making Crimes wanted to get a better idea of what folks in the vaping industry think about all this, and we especially wanted opinions from industry professionals about the potential for DIY tobacco, nicotine, or vaping products to become black market goods in spite of hypothetical bans. So, we went down to a prominent local vapor bar (Let’s call it… Vurple Haze), and spoke with the owners, management, and staff to get their opinions.[i]
One thing to understand about this place is that almost all of its staff, and lots of customers, are already DIYers. They don’t need to build their own e-cigarette systems and mods, but they do it because they enjoy engineering and customizing their own stuff. It’s not unusual to walk into Vurple Haze and see a couple staff or customers with tool sets spread out on the bar, working on a DIY vaporizer, wrenching on a homemade quad rotor drone, or messing around with some other DIY project. Vaping has a lot of appeal to handy people and DIYers: you can make almost everything yourself if you’ve got a basic knowledge of electrical engineering, and the liquids aren’t difficult to mix safely once you know what you’re doing. When I was done asking the staff their opinions about the potential for a vapor black market, they proceeded to show off their homemade vaporizers and DIY drones. It was clear from our conversations that lots of these folks are familiar with the basics of 3D printing, digital fabrication, machining, programming, and other aspects of modern DIY.
Maybe that’s why, when we discussed the politics and practicalities of banning e-cigarettes, most of these folks thought the FDA’s new regulations are just blowing smoke.
Making Crimes (MC): So first, off, why are customers attracted to vaping?
Rick Fogg (Owner): Affordability, health reasons, options, choices, control. Those are the main reasons, then you’ve got the micro-reasons, they don’t want to smell like tobacco, they don’t want the stigma attached to traditional tobacco.
MC: Why do so many of your staff and customers make their own vapor stuff?
Fogg: We make our own stuff because very few people do it in our geographic area, and people have been DIY-ing or making their own e-liquid since early 2009, um… Mt. Baker Vapor being one of the largest. So you know, people want options. It’s like craft beer or whatever else, if you give people the option to customize it, they will.
On the proposed FDA regulations:
Fogg: That’s the crazy thing about this, is that when I first started, everything was a closed system, and now everything is an open system.
MC: And a big thing about the FDA regs is that they want everything to be closed systems? Easier to control from the top?
Fogg: Correct, yep.
MC: But it seems like consumers want an open system. I personally would want an open system.
Fogg: Correct. 90% of the people out there want an open system. And, open system to the point where there’s open source… to control the various devices. Open source to consider, you know, “how do I make this flavor?” Because that’s been open since the beginning. I mean, they have hundreds of websites out there to tell you how to make your own liquid, and clone the top names in the industry already. So there’s already a pseudo-black market in the sense that, you know, there are people out there cloning the top brands. And they’re either doing it for themselves, or doing it to slap a label on it.
But if you look at what these things are [holds up home-built vaporizer], and the term “mod” comes from the earliest days of vaping, and it was a modification done to general supplies that you could find anywhere. And they started putting those together. Back in the day, I started with the TVCA [Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association], and was one of the founding members of the ECA [Electronic Cigarette Association], and one thing we found was that people who were modding were getting in the most trouble, because they were doing things that they didn’t understand. From an electric standpoint, or capacity standpoint, or whatever, but people were… back in 2009, a guy in Florida blew off part of his face, you know? And we equated it to putting a V8 engine on a lawnmower.
MC: Over clocking?
Fogg: Yeah, and something bad was gonna happen. But the reality is that anybody with the right tools and the know-how could build these. And for his, for example [points to staff member’s DIY device], they can build it very very well.
MC: So like, the supply chain for the kind of components that you need…
Fogg: Zero. I mean, you could find it almost anywhere.
MC: And it’s not components that are specific just to an e-liquid vaporizer? This is just like basic electronic engineering stuff?
Rhett Cloud (Staff): If you have a basic understand of physics, and the electrical side of physics…
Fogg: This is a term that may come into play in the future, this is a “personal humidifier.” It’s all terms, you know? The marijuana market, forever…
MC: Right, their equipment was illegal forever, and people still were making it.
Fogg: Correct! And it’s all about the wording. “This is not a ‘water pipe,'” or “this is not a ‘bong,’ it’s a ‘water tobacco pipe,’ you know. It’s all about the verbiage people use, and so I think that if they get even close to implementing the FDA regs, which I don’t think they will ever achieve, but if they do get close, then this [holds up vaporizer] is going to be a “personal humidification device.”
MC: Just rebrand it, or re-label it?
Fogg: Correct. “Not for use with nicotine.” Just like vaporizers in 2008, for weed, “not for use with any illegal substance.” And that’s how they got away with it. And then this…
MC: Is that why the FDA is trying this super-broad definition, saying that basically anything that can accept a liquid, even a non-nicotine liquid, is still an e-cigarette?
Fogg: That’s right, but…
Cloud: The FDA’s strategy is like a shotgun spread. They’re trying to cover as much as they possibly can, knowing that certain pieces are going to get taken away.
Fogg: That’s right, they go for everything, and then if they get pushed back a little bit, they’re still winning. Art of negotiation. But back in 2013, when I opened this shop, I had tinctures. Herbal remedy tinctures in liquid form, that could be dripped onto a heating element, and therefore because when you inhale something it reaches your system more quickly and effectively…
But the judge listening to the current case, said, “what else would actually go into this device, besides e-liquid with nicotine?” The attorney for the industry, or the coalition, didn’t answer properly. Because there are actually tons of different things you can put in them.
MC: Anything that’ll atomize, right?
Fogg: Correct. Anything in liquid format. And it doesn’t even have to be for the purpose of inhalation. It’s just like an air freshener, a “personal air freshener device.” So you can argue and create different verbiage, definitions, and warning labels, to prevent the government from saying “oh well, you’re doing that.” And there are about four or five top flavoring companies in the US, and if there’s a reasonable intent for those flavors to be used with nicotine, then they all have to become “nicotine,” or “tobacco products.” And that means the entire flavor industry will have to be redefined as “tobacco.”
Cloud: Luckily enough [names flavor company] just pulls out of the US and they won’t have to worry about anything.
MC: It sounds like the definition is so broad, the deeming regs, they could literally say anything is a tobacco product at that point, if it was accepted the way the deeming regs currently are. You could pretty much say that anything is “tobacco.”
Fogg: Correct. A copper pipe that you buy at Home Depot, could be classified as a tobacco product.
MC: I just read that pipe tobacco as well…
Fogg: Pipe tobacco, cigars…
MC: And they’re saying that a slightly different blend of pipe tobacco would be a whole new product, just like the e-liquid, a slightly different blend would be a whole new product, so old-timey tobacconists would have to go through the whole FDA process to blend tobaccos, even if both tobaccos have already been approved as separate products.
Fogg: Yep, it’s all grouped together into “OTP,” or “other tobacco product.” So if it’s OTP, back in 2010 or 2011 they started coming out with nicotine hand sanitizers and lollipops, and that’s when FDA started really saying “we need to do something about this because it’s getting out of control,” and the fight we had was to make this [holds up vial of e-liquid] a “tobacco” product, because if it wasn’t a tobacco product then it becomes a medicine. And if it was a medicine we wouldn’t be here today. So now, we’re fighting… it’s not really a tobacco product but we can’t “un-fight” the fight that we had.
MC: So, with your understanding of the FDA regulations as they stand today, how are nicotine replacement therapy products, the gum, patches, and so forth, not tobacco products?
Fogg: Because it’s a “medicine.” It’s a medication. And there are companies that started out as electronic cigarettes and immediately submitted their nicotine replacement therapy applications, and they’re still in the process of waiting for a response. And this was back in 2009. So the process [for approval as medicine] is prohibitive.
MC: And my understanding is they’re saying if it wasn’t on market before 2007, which is before any e-cigarettes even came out…
Fogg: Yeah, there was… February 1st of 2007, there was maybe one electronic cigarette being marketed in the US, and they’re long gone now. So it was really at the end of 2007 that it started to become an actual marketed product, but it was at the very end, I’m talking December 2007. And then in 2008, that’s when the majority started. That’s when another 10-20 companies started.
MC: It’s a weird thing, because you’re talking about a technology that any DIYer could make for personal use based on components that you can’t really regulate, you can’t really restrict, because it’s basic electronic equipment…
What are the Practicalities of Regulating or Restricting E-Cigarettes?
MC: So, sounds like we’re talking about technology that pretty much anybody could make, you can’t suppress information about how to make the devices, you can’t restrict all the components that go into them. It sounds like the only real leverage point, if they really wanted to go after e-cigarettes, which I think we’d probably both agree they can’t do too hard for political reasons…
Fogg: Not too hard.
MC: …is e-liquid, and really just nicotine. Is nicotine really the only leverage point they’d have to try to shut down e-cigarettes being made on a DIY basis?
Fogg: A hundred percent.
MC: It’s totally just nicotine?
Fogg: A hundred percent.
MC: Propylene glycol, glycerin, those are non-toxic, they have wide applications, no?
Fogg: Every component of electronic cigarettes and liquid is FDA approved in itself. It’s the combination of all of them, and the nicotine is the only component that has the potential to do harm.
MC: I was trying to find info on how, specifically, nicotine is regulated. And then also, people DIY-ing for non-commercial home tobacco growing. There are a lot of videos and online forums, I’m looking at how people distill or extract nicotine out of tobacco, or out of other vegetables. And that, theoretically, is legal. It’s legal to grow the tobacco, it’s not legal to process and package it commercially without license, and sell it.
Fogg: Correct. And I don’t care if… there’s a company out in Missouri that said “Ok, screw you FDA, we’ll work around you,” and they started extracting all their e-liquid nicotine from other plants. So it was non-tobacco nicotine. But as soon as they did that, the FDA was ready to say “ok, well if you’re not a tobacco product that means you’re a medicine.”
MC: So, anything with nicotine that isn’t tobacco, they want to put under the medical regulatory system.
Fogg: Correct, yes.
Cloud: And it doesn’t even have to be nicotine, zero milligrams of nicotine [in e-liquid] is still “tobacco”…
Fogg: And that’s a product of their broad scope regulations. But essentially, the only thing they can regulate is that nicotine.
MC: In practical terms you mean? Because you can build all the rest, the material for e-liquid and e-cigarettes is common stuff you can’t restrict. So it’s really just nicotine that’s the one leverage point that, if they were serious about trying to combat e-cigarettes, or make sure they collect tax…
Cloud: What I feel like you might see people doing, is selling zero milligram flavoring, and then paying separately for a bottle of nicotine. Something along those lines, and then just adding it yourself.
Fogg: This establishment, the sign says “Vapor Bar” at the top. If it comes down to it, it could say “Flavor Bar.” You know, get all your flavors here, and order the nicotine online, which we have a distribution center here, but we’re not a part of it, we’re technically two separate entities. That’s getting into a grey area, but that’s what you’re talking about, with how a black market would start to happen.
MC: That gets into the question, do they really want to put that much effort into enforcing something that clearly, politically, is not much of a winner if there’s a real outcry about it when you consider the harm reduction aspect? But let’s say for the point of argument, they say “regardless of how it looks politically, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna try to stamp it out.” Then, it’s really just nicotine at that point that they can do anything about? And at that point are we going to have cops retraining all their dogs to try to detect nicotine now?
Fogg: Correct! And because they can put so many restrictions on nicotine, you won’t be able to get it legally anywhere.
MC: Do you think there would be a cottage industry, under the table, of people who know how to extract it from regular tobacco?
Fogg: I’m sure people will figure that out. On a large scale, it’s not really viable. But on a personal level, definitely.
MC: And in the middle of all this brouhaha over e-cigarettes and fluid, tobacco is still legal. It’s legal to grow it for personal use. It’s still legal to buy processed tobacco in bulk.
MC: So, the only illegal activity that they’d be looking for, that they’d be empowered to combat, would be people just extracting nicotine from tobacco?
Fogg: Yep. And again, it’s the same… if you grow tobacco in your backyard and it’s for personal consumption, the Feds aren’t gonna come bust in your door. It’s only when you start producing for sale.
MC: Only for commercial growing, and when you process it for commercial sale.
Fogg: Correct, yep.
MC: And I’ve spoken with ATF on other issues, they’ve actually been pretty gracious with me on other topics, but it seems like they’ve got a lot on their plate. It’s like, the level of scale…
Fogg: To even get on their radar… is huge. And then you have to define intent. Intent to sell or distribute. How much nicotine in a liquid form would you need to fall into that category? I mean, a farmer could produce it in bulk. If they make it so difficult to get nicotine, then people are just gonna do it themselves.
MC: Seems like you can’t even really hope to get rid of nicotine or e-cigarettes unless you kill the whole tobacco economy too.
Fogg: That’s right, and a lot of people say, well cigarettes are bad, so why don’t we just regulate them out of existence? Problem is, the “Master Settlement Agreement” keeps them from doing that.
MC: So it’s like a perverse incentive because it’s also the source of their funding?
Fogg: Correct. So they can’t do anything about cigarettes because they have an agreement with the tobacco industry. So, it’s quite crazy.
MC: What do you think will happen with the vape industry… there’s you know, speculation that they don’t seem to be giving mainstream tobacco the same level of trouble… They do keep hitting mainstream tobacco with various regulations, but they’re not hitting them with regulations that are going to put them out of business…
Fogg: But they did put “Little Cigars” out of business.
MC: Is it true they froze a lot of small tobacco producers out with the 2009 taxes?
Fogg: Yep. The 2009 legislation killed a lot of different industries.
MC: I remember I rolled my own cigarettes at that time, and it was a much better deal, and you were getting tobacco with no additives, and then all of a sudden it was an exponentially higher price due to the taxes…
Fogg: It was. It was like 1500%-5000% percent tax increase depending on the weight. So now, you walk into a cigarette shop, so you’re like, “why bother?” It’s less expensive to get prepackaged cigarettes. And the “little cigars,” or, they weren’t even called “little cigars” back then, cigarillos? Then they had to change it to “little cigar” and package it just the right way to get it around the legislation, but it killed most of them.
Cloud: Then again, just like everything, you’ve got a couple or a few of the big players that are able to survive the new regulations.
Fogg: Right, but they’re all in bed with…
MC: So there’s definitely crossover between industry, lobbyists, and regulators? And now people are saying the same thing with the nicotine replacement therapy too. They say some of the people who are behind the FDA’s new deeming regs used to work for nicorette or other “nicotine replacement therapy” items.
MC: Do you think that the vaping industry, something that works for and against it is that it’s a lot of small actors that weren’t already super established in the tobacco industry? Like, it’s favorable in the sense that there are lots of mom and pop operations, a lot of innovation, a lot of consumer choice, and a lot of the innovation comes from the fact that there are lots of different people entering this emerging area and experimenting. But it seems like the mainstream, big tobacco industry vaping products you find in the gas station are mostly not very good…
Fogg: Typically, because it has to be affordable.
MC: Do you think there is a perverse incentive there? Like, if you make tobacco and the less harmful alternative to it, maybe you’d be less invested in the alternative?
Fogg: Well, and that’s the thing. Every tobacco company has admitted the product is bad. That this is bad.
Cloud: And they’ve even gone that route and made their own e-cigarettes. Like, the “VUE” is owned by RJ Reynolds, and the “Mark 10” is Philip Morris. They’ve had their runs at it.
MC: Do they do as well as other vape products?
Cloud: No, they don’t push it as hard as they do their other…
Fogg: Well, you’ve got to think about it slightly differently. For years my primary business was “C-Store,” the big companies, if you look at the sheer volume they’re doing. If you look at these numbers people are coming up with, “$2 Billion Industry,” “$4 Billion Industry,” that’s based on Nielson data, and that data is skewed because the only participants in reporting that data are the C-Stores. So the true value, and the true market potential, is orders of magnitude larger.
MC: Because you’ve got a lot of exclusively vape shops that are not reporting that?
Fogg: They can’t, they don’t. So there are no major vape-only shops that are reporting to Nielson, so that data is skewed.
MC: Is that stuff freely available? Can I look that up?
Fogg: Yeah, but actually getting into the reports is gonna cost you a couple grand. [laughs]
MC: Aw, no, I’m a simple blogger.
Fogg: But, yeah, my words are backed up by other sources. So the tobacco companies dip their toes into “cig-a-likes,” and some open systems like “Egos,” but they can’t pivot like small business can.
MC: So, when that’s your whole business model, like, “we only sell vaporizers,” as opposed to “this is something that pretty much undercuts our traditional business model, we’re gonna take a run at it, but we’re not super invested.”
Fogg: Right. And that’s why they started buying up all the other e-cigarette companies. They bought “Blu” in like 2012, and that was like a $100 million deal…
So, if you look at the losses. I can only talk about big tobacco losses, but they’re posting 3-5% client loss annually. And when you look at an $80 billion industry, that’s significant.
MC: You’ve got smokers that didn’t even plan to quit, they try vaping and stick with vaping.
Brandon Billow (Staff): I chewed, and I didn’t even want to quit chewing, but I tried this [holds up DIY vaporizer] and it just tasted better.
MC: Like, I personally had no plan to quit cigarettes, but I did when I started vaping. If you’re saying that they’re losing 3-5% annually, in 20 years you’ve got no smokers left. If I’m a tobacco executive, or if I’m a public agency that gets funding from tobacco tax, I’m worried about that.
Billow: Yep, definitely.
On Vaping Technology
MC: That reminds me, when I came in the other week, and you were talking about… this thing [correspondent holds up own vaporizer], is pretty much ancient?
Cloud: It’s like, dinosaur, if we’re talking about the current technology.
Fogg: Well, it’s two years old.
MC: But in terms of innovation, it’s way behind? And then you guys last week gave me a sample from some other new device, and you told me that hey, I can actually have a lower solution of nicotine and still feel the same satisfaction with some of the newer technologies.
Cloud: Yeah, yup!
Fogg: Potentially more satisfaction.
Cloud: Because you’re increasing your vapor production.
Fogg: And it’s also volume, you’re inhaling more, so you’re feeling the same sensation with less nicotine in the solution.
Cloud: When you get into devices that are more efficient, you’re getting more vapor, it makes it easier for people to step down in nicotine.
MC: That’s actually what I was going to get to… so as the technology improves, does that actually make it easier to reduce the amount of nicotine?
Cloud: Yes. Because if you tried your 24 mg solution in this [holds up own DIY device], you’d cough, it would knock you down. You wouldn’t enjoy it.
Fogg: A perfect example is that when people go from a “cig-a-like” at 18mg or 24 mg solution, which is what I was doing. And for years I was on 18 mgs, and then just within the last year, I started going down, because the technology was going up. And now, after about a year of vaping 12 mg, now I’m at a 2 mg solution.
Cloud: Yeah, I mean, if I did 6 mg all day with this rig [holds up his own DIY device], I’d get a headache.
MC: Right, and I still get this 24 mg solution for my old e-cigarette, and it doesn’t even seem very strong.
Fogg: Right, but there are some people who feel that 24 mg is not enough. My office manager, back in 2009, she was smoking 2 packs of Marlboro Reds per day. And we tried everything. We threw 24 mg solution at her, we threw the “EGO’s” at her, and when the “Twist” came out we threw that at her. I mean, she was trying for 5 years to get off the “sticks” [traditional cigarettes], and she was finally able to do it with an unregulated custom vape device, because she was finally getting enough vapor and nicotine that it satisfied her physically, and now she’s off cigarettes.
MC: That brings me back to the black market issue. So you were saying that nicotine is really the only regulatory leverage, the only thing they can target, because the other areas of the technology are already out, and the genie is out of the bottle on the tech. And tobacco and nicotine can continue to be produced in smaller amounts off the books. So, as the technology improves, does that also mean that people could DIY their own nicotine, and could get the same result while actually producing and trading much less of the actual tobacco and nicotine? If e-cigarette technology improves so the devices are producing the same value to the consumer with less need for nicotine, does that mean, as a black market issue, the need for the one thing they can target for enforcement actually decreases?
Fogg: That’s right. And that’s where it becomes a significant black market. I mean, go down to Mexico, go up to Canada, and drive a truck across the border with drums of nicotine. I totally see that happening. It’ll be like, back alley operations. So yeah, meth and all the other things that people are cooking up with common materials…
MC: Chemically, it seems more difficult to do meth or other synthetic drugs than to extract smaller amounts of nicotine from tobacco, and tobacco can be legally purchased in bulk.
Fogg: Yep, correct. So, it’s always gonna be here. And a lot of people said in 2009 when they passed the regs, that the industry was dead. Nope. And now everybody is flipping out because of these regs. I’ve been saying “nope” the whole time, because it’s here. It’s not going anywhere, whether it goes black market or stays in the mainstream.
On DIY Vaping
MC: So is there any kind of law or proposal to try to make it illegal to just make it yourself, or DIY it?
Cloud: I don’t think there’s anything.
Billow: Only reselling it.
MC: So, commercial. Like, you can’t do it for sale, but you can for personal use. Much like for DIY guns, the one big regulatory leverage point is commercial activity. They can’t make it illegal to make a gun, or own one you’ve made yourself, if you’re otherwise qualified to personally buy the same kind of item legally. So the one big leverage point on DIY guns is commercial sale, but until it gets to the level of commercial activity, it’s legal as a personal activity. As far as I can tell it’s similar with tobacco, or DIY e-cigarettes.
Billow: Right, it’s similar to buying rolling papers and tobacco and rolling cigarettes for personal use. You’re not a “manufacturer” of cigarettes if you do that for personal consumption.
MC: Can I ask you guys about the specific components you use to put together the liquid and the devices? So first, the actual devices?
Cloud: It’s really simple, you’re gonna have a chip or board that’s gonna monitor and regulate your current…
Billow: It’s literally common electronic components. Most “box mods” as you’d call them, they’ve got a switch you can pick up through any electronics distributor. They’ve got volt meters, which are common electronics. The boxes, the enclosures, you can use just about anything.
Cloud: I mean, you can go online and you can find people have made vaporizers out of gaming controllers…
Marvin Dew (Staff) : A DeWalt tool box!
Cloud: Altoid tins…
Billow: Yeah, and copper wiring. There’s no way… as long as you can find a threaded connector that is the same as is used by all the atomizers these days, a 510 connector, then…
Cloud: Everyone uses the same threading pitch…
Dew: And just put a battery slit in there, and put batteries in it.
MC: So what’s the technical limit in terms of people being able to DIY e-cigarette devices?
Cloud: The limit is going to be when people run out of ideas.
Billow: That’s pretty much right. There is no technical limitation. The only limitation is going to be what type of batteries they can safely use.
MC: It sounds like there’s no real technical thing, the only real leverage point is nicotine at that point. So how about e-liquid too?
Cloud: So it’s propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, flavoring, and nicotine. Those are your four things that can go into it, that’s it.
Billow: And most of those things you can pick up at the grocery store. You can pick up big bottles of glycerin at a pharmacy or grocery store. What we use here commercially is a little different just in terms of quality or purity, but it’s not much different. Artificial flavoring you pick up at the store.
Cloud: Fog machines typically are propylene glycol. It’s a bonding agent.
Dew: They actually add propylene glycol to antifreeze to make it less toxic.
DIY Black Markets?
MC: So if e-cigarettes were prohibited or extremely strictly regulated. If it were a black market thing, what would be the hardest part?
Billow: Honestly, enforcement. I think a lot of law enforcement would see it as a waste of their time, if it came down to it. Enforcement, trying to stop people from getting the supplies or doing it themselves, would be the hardest part of banning it.
MC: From the consumer or producer side of it, what would be the hardest thing?
Billow: Uh, probably getting the nicotine.
MC: You think an average consumer like me, where my logic is “hey, I quit smoking this way, I’ll be damned if I’m going back because the regulations make it less available.” I can probably figure out how to make my own device off a kit or something like that. Do you think the average consumer… how would most people try to get e-cigarettes and fluid if it were hypothetically banned?
Billow: A lot of people will try to go to black market sources, off the books sources to find the products. Order stuff online. Or, people are gonna find their friends who have those connections, or are producing in volume out of their basements. Things like that.
MC: Do you think there’s going to be, you know, high school kids that are handy, if they know how to make them, they’re just gonna make a bunch and sell to their friends and so forth?
Billow: Oh yeah.
Cloud: That’s probably already happening, honestly.
Billow: I’ve seen it, working in the industry. As soon as you make one, it’s really easy to continue making more.
Cloud: If dad has a drill press at home, life becomes easy. That’s the big thing about it, order your parts, overcharge your friends for that shit, make some money.
MC: So, really it sounds like it’s like any other black market, or anything where regulations put it under the table. It doesn’t get rid of the knowledge of how to do it, and it doesn’t get rid of most, or all, of the components that go into it, it just takes it out of legitimate industry for the most part.
Billow: Yeah, exactly.
MC: So, if you were addressing somebody who is concerned about e-cigarettes, they’re worried about the kids and e-cigarettes, they’re worried that it’s under-regulated. What would you propose as a logical, rational set of regulations for the vaping industry?
Billow: Honestly, the age restrictions, definitely. No selling to anyone under the age of 18. It’s honestly safer for the consumer to have this run by actual businesses, making the liquids, because then you know that business is getting high quality ingredients from a reputable source. Making sure they have that. Not overcharging if they have to certify their flavors, make it a reasonable price that mom and pop shops can actually afford.
MC: I’m assuming, not putting so many costs on it that the end product is more expensive than regular cigarettes. That’s a concern for me as a consumer.
Billow: Yeah, definitely not. Because this is a product to get people away from cigarettes, to get people to something that may not be 100% safer, but is clearly a lot safer and more healthy than cigarettes. I’ve noticed the effect myself, going from smoking to vaping, I’m healthier all the way around. I was about a pack and a half a day at my max. …That, to me is what a lot of the regulations are being pushed for. Because the tobacco industry itself puts so much money in the government’s pocket, that they’re afraid all of these people that they’re killing and getting their money from, all those people are going to put their money elsewhere.
MC: Do you think that because the regulatory agencies get so much money from big tobacco, that they’re maybe just trying to slow this thing long enough that they can slap the same taxes on vaping and generate the same revenue from that before all the smokers are gone?
Billow: Definitely. Yeah, they’re trying to compensate, for sure, on what they’re losing over here on the tobacco side, and get it back over here on the vape side. And the political backlash, for sure, if they regulate to the point that they tax the vaping industry way too much and it dies, and everybody goes back to regular cigarettes or quits everything altogether, then yeah it’s not necessarily a win-win situation for anybody.
[i] Names of the Vapor Bar, owner, and staff are changed to maintain anonymity. The vapor bar is in the Denver area, and its management have been in the vapor business since emergence of the vaping industry in the mid-2000s.