Vaping in 2016: A year in Review

The world of vaping has changed a great deal in 2016, and not all of the changes were positive. As the New Year dawned, the vaping industry remained largely unregulated, but rumors of impending legislation that would forever change the community were running rampant.  The American Public was still seemingly confusing smoking with vaping, and businesses struggled to determine whether to allow public vaping in bars and restaurants.

Here are just a few of the major milestones that occurred in the War on Vaping during 2016.

  • On New Year’s Day 2016, Hawaii became the first state to raise the legal smoking age to 21. California followed suit on June 9. And by December 2016, more than 200 local municipalities had also changed their city ordinances to raise the minimum legal age for sales of tobacco products, including those related to vaping technology and e-cigs.
  • On February 11, 2016, a California Congressman named Duncan Hunter expressed his support for the vaping community by taking out his trusty vape mod and blowing clouds of vapor across the room during a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting. The former U.S. Marine was attempting to prove a point as to why vaping should be allowed on airplanes.  Hunter was such a big hit within the vaping community that he is forever nicknamed “The Vaping Congressman.”
  • By March 3, 2016, Hunter got his answer when Secretary Anthony Fox of the U.S. Department of Transportation made the official announcement that vaping on airplanes is now an illegal act.
  • Later that month, Dr. Margaret Cuomo, the daughter of the former New York Governor, drew fire from e-cig advocacy groups and even some major media outlets for posting an anti-vaping video on the Huffington Post. In her video, Cuomo made some rather outrageous statements that were easily and quickly debunked by the scientific community.  Among many of her most ridiculous claims were that e-cigs are “just as dangerous as smoking” and “e-cigarettes will raise your risk of lung cancer.”   The Huffington Post later printed a retraction.
  • On April Fools Day, the vaping community fell victim to a rather silly prank when a false news story went viral across social media at lightning speed. Well before the term “fake news” made its way into popular culture, the April Fools hoax involved a story stating that Chief Long Dong of the Xinsha Tobacco Authority in China was immediate banning all exports of vaping and e-cig technology.  The story, of course, turned out to be completely untrue.
  • On May 5, 2016, the rumored FDA deeming regulations were officially unveiled by Dr. Robert Califf, the agency’s chief. Among the many new regulations, all e-cig and vaping components would now be classified as “tobacco products.”  Those released after a predication date of February 15, 2007 would also be forced to undergo a complex Pre-Market Tobacco Applications (PMTA) process previously reserved for Big Tobacco merchandise and costing in upwards of $1 million per product. 
  • Just days before the announcement of the FDA deeming regulations, The UK’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) issued the results of a new scientific study stating that e-cigs and vaping technology are approximately 95 percent healthier and safer than combustible cigarettes. The RCP also stated that vaping should be promoted rather than demonized by medical personnel.  The CDC refused to comment on the RCP study, instead offering their own response: "There is currently no conclusive scientific evidence supporting the use of e-cigarettes as a safe and effective cessation tool. The science thus far indicates most e-cigarette users in the United States continue to smoke conventional cigarettes."
  • By May 9, just days after the FDA deeming regulations were released, Tampa-based Nicopure Labs filed a historical lawsuit against the FDA in Federal District Court in Washington, DC.  The basis of the lawsuit stems from the agency’s new classification of all e-cigs as tobacco products. Several similar lawsuits follow.
  • On May 17, Senate Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ron Johnson sends the first of at least four letters to Robert Califf of the FDA. Johnson lists several issues related to the FDA deeming regulations that demand further clarification.  Califf misses several of the imposed deadlines to respond, and when he finally does, Johnson says his responses are “insufficient.” 
  • In April of 2016, the Cole-Bishop Amendment to the FDA e-cig regulations was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in April of 2015. The bill introduced by Rep. Sanford Bishop (D - GA) and Rep. Tom Cole (R - OK) attempts to redefine the controversial predicate date of February 15, 2007.  It remains stalled in the Senate, even being passed over once again for an official vote by as late as December 2016.
  • On August 8, 2016, the FDA deeming regulations officially go into effect. Sales to minors both through brick and mortar vape shops and via online websites are now illegal.  Vape shops can no longer offer coil-building assistance or other similar services that would re-classify the customer device as a “new product” and would, therefore, require a new million-dollar PMTA.  Child-resistant packaging requirements and other regulations also go into effect.
  • Late in the summer of 2016, Pennsylvania announces a new 40 percent sin tax on e-cigs and vaping technology. Vape shop owners have until October 1 to pay the hefty tax on all in-house inventory.  Businesses rush to deplete their in-house stock to avoid paying the 40 percent tax.
  • By July 1, 2016, Indian vaping laws were in the news. In late May, former Governor and now Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence signed House Bill 1432 into law, requiring all e-liquid retailers to hire a security firm with highly specialized qualifications.  It was later discovered that only one such security firm in the entire state exists, a firm named Mulhaupt’s of Lafayette.  As hundreds of vape shop owners publicly voiced their complaints, the Indiana vaping laws eventually became the subject of an FBI investigation which is still ongoing.
  • As the autumn of 2016 approached, all eyes were on the Presidential Election. Progress on the Nicopure lawsuit, Cole-Bishop Amendment, and other legislation stalled.
  • On November 8, Republican Donald Trump wins the electoral college but loses the popular vote by some 3 million votes. As Trump prepares to take office, many in the vaping community expect the new administration to be more vape-friendly.
  • By the end of November, Sen. Ron Johnson teams with Rep. Duncan Hunter to issue yet another scathing letter to FDA Head Robert Califf urging him to overturn the FDA deeming regulations immediately. The Dynamic Duo imply that the Trump Administration will eventually repeal the regulations anyway, shortly after Inauguration Day on January 20.  Once again, Califf ignores the Johnson-Hunter letter. 
  • During the first week of December, U.S. Surgeon General  Vivek Murthy issues a blistering report stating that e-cigs and vaping technology are a major cause of concern for American teens. The report and included statistics are quickly refuted by scientists both in the United States and abroad.  Even the UK’s Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England takes issue with the Surgeon General, publicly stating that vaping “is a great public health opportunity.”

As 2016 drew to a close, the vaping industry was bracing itself for the new Trump Administration.  With Barack Obama now a lame duck presidency, the focus was on Trump’s anticipated selections for cabinet posts and department heads, like the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees the FDA) and the incoming replacement for Robert Califf at the FDA.  And while the FDA deeming regulations were still officially intact by New Years Eve, e-cig enthusiasts around the nation remain ever hopeful that 2017 will be far more positive for the vaping community overall.

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