Free US shipping over $50 Toll Free Support 888-451-0133
E-Cigarette Summit USA. Where was vape?

E-Cigarette Summit USA. Where was vape?

About the author
Oliver Kershaw

Oliver Kershaw

Founder of and co-founder of

The inaugural US E-Cigarette Summit took place in Washington DC on Monday.

Encouragingly, there does now finally appear to be a consensus amongst the tobacco control community: Smokers should be encouraged to use vaping products if they’ve been unable to quit using FDA approved stuff. To many in the vaping industry, this will appear to be missing the wood for the trees, but that’s just the nature of consensus. It’s a net positive, and could not have occurred even a year ago.

But the vaping industry remains unrepresented in this discourse. Delegates at yesterday's Summit did not come away from the event with anything like an incremental understanding of the true nature and character of vaping. It just wasn’t in the room. The only industry present, either physically, or in the mind of the non-industry delegates, were the few larger players that are going through the PMTA motions.

Don’t misunderstand me – it's great that companies are doing PMTAs, but for those of us that are actually part of the independent vape industry, Monday felt at times a little like being in a parallel reality. The vast knowledge, experience, insight and sum total of a billion human-to-human interactions in pursuit of “actually-existing harm reduction”, just did not surface. Instead, the conversation was around the PMTA agenda securing a future that consists of some (we don’t know how many) reduced-harm products. The dangerous assumption is that this is sufficient or desirable and that this constitutes a true harm-reduction approach.

If you attended the Summit and don’t recognize that as a truthful statement, let me prove it to you with a quick and easy task. Spend 10 minutes browsing my website, E-Cigarette Forum.Com. Get a sense of the vernacular, of the energy occurring between peers. Now realize (because you just have to trust me on this one), ECF (as we call it) is a big site, but it’s barely even a speck compared with the true overall picture. Was this what was under discussion at the Summit? I don't believe so.

This is what harm reduction looks like now, in the actual world. It’s a thing that should be treated with respect, curiousness and seriousness and not exclusion. The fundamental element of harm reduction is peer-to-peer education and interaction: harm reduction is a communication intervention. Thanks to the wonders of information technology, you can witness this in real time. What a privilege! Did you get a sense of this at the Summit?

This peer-to-peer interaction is the reason, as we heard, that 65% of American smokers are correctly informed that vaping products are safer than smoking, compared with some 30% of non-smokers. This peer-to-peer interaction is entirely facilitated by the vaping industry. Why is the vaping industry so good at doing this? Easy: because independent vaping innovation and the market for independent vape products is radically user driven. The category was founded and occupied by people who make and use these products.

There exists an assumption that all this can be placed by a few “harm reduction products”. Matthew Myers, for example, stated that he’s in support of harm reduction, but he’s also in support of the deeming rule. This is a contradiction in terms,  and I think it’s a risky business killing this all off without any clarity over what will replace it.

So why is vaping underrepresented?

The dearth of anything like a literature on the true picture of vaping in America is a problem.

In my opinion the main reason for this is structural (but I will note that many of my colleagues do not share this interpretation, which they would consider charitable at best): The fragmentation in ownership of the industry has led to a fragmentation in efforts to represent it at research, regulatory or tobacco control levels. In a sense, this industry is invisible despite being found on every Main Street.

This had led to a hinterland between “anecdote” and “literature” that the FDA wishes to fill with PMTAs. The FDA’s impact assessments did not make evaluations of the existing public health contribution of vaping and, therefore, was not able to make any assessment of the effect on public health of its eradication. The entire issue was reduced to a footnote: “We anticipate 98.5% will exit”.

But it’s not entirely a structural issue. There has been no desire from the leadership in the research community to develop a knowledge base and to work with the user community. And, sadly, there’s deep reciprocal mistrust of the Tobacco Controllers from vapers and vape businesses.

Instead of working with what should be their natural allies (it's not uncommon to hear vapers state: "Fuck Big Tobacco"!), for years the tobacco control community has occupied itself over an internal disagreement as to whether the notion of harm reduction can be countenanced. There are individuals that are responsible for this inertia. There are also individuals that are responsible for the dissemination of dangerously misleading information. But yesterday’s Summit appears to have generated a consensus. So what next?

 Why regulate?

During the first E-Cigarette Summit in London, 2013, a panel was asked: “why is regulation necessary?”. Professor Robert West replied (I'm paraphrasing): “I think we regulate when one of two things are true: Either we identify a problem that regulation needs to deal with, or we identify a way in which regulation can improve things. I don’t see either answer being true in the case of e-cigarettes.”

The construction of the Tobacco Act excuses the FDA from asking either of these questions. On the one hand, it’s simply a statement of legal fact that it gives FDA a mandate to take action, and on the other, the onus is placed on the manufacturer to prove a product’s public health benefit.

The net result of PMTAs is that the overwhelming majority of vape businesses are eliminated, the peer-to-peer networks, which revolve around these businesses, fall apart, and this thing is lost forever.

Is there a case for regulation?

I think I know how Robert West’s questions can be answered in the US case.

The first question: “what problem are we seeing that needs to be fixed”, is problematic in the context of biased research agendas. This is solved by the rejection of bad research, and I think the overall picture that came out at the Summit was positive. The reason Professor West could say convincingly that he wasn't seeing a problem (actually, he was just starting to see the opposite of a problem) is because he runs the Smoking Toolkit Study. The US counterpart, PATH, is only now beginning to provide a truthful picture of vape (and smoking) in the USA.

Can regulation “make things better”? I think it can, in two ways. Firstly, a standards-based system can be adopted and made to work, perhaps mimicking the US Cosmetics model. This would provide American vapers with assurance as to the quality of products, and would identify, over time, any compounds that are problematic in inhalation. Contrary to Matt Myers, there is not an abundance of "awful products" out there, but there is an abundance of misleading information.

Secondly, a program should be initiated that seeks to leverage what vape-stores are already doing. This program would create an information exchange helping to encourage best-practice in helping smokers making the change. but it should be facilitative rather than coercive.

Product innovation should be encouraged. It’s true that vape products are not yet good enough.  Is there a way of incentivising innovation in vape? I don't know, but I do know that PMTA is disincentivising.

On flavors

The hand-wringing over vape juice flavors needs to stop. Flavors are great – smokers love them. To me, the constant refrain of “flavors are just aimed at children” only serves to underscore the lack of compassion for smokers. Which other groups would be denied their pleasures so cavalierly? And doesn’t the Declaration of Independence talk about the rights of Americans in the pursuit of their happiness?

In fact, I'll go further on flavors. I think they're a "hook"; a last ditch attempt to find something specifically problematic about e-cigs to justify a strongly held disgust-response to vaping. On the plus side, if people can get over the flavor issue, maybe the next step is a true change of mind.


I’ll be following this piece up with an overview of the content of various presentations shortly. But I wanted to make note of a general sense of doubt over PMTAs. The new Administration, Cole-Bishop, lawsuits, and so forth have, I think, led to a general sense that the regulatory process embarked on in May last year will eventually take on a different character.

A Clarification

This piece was not intended to criticize in any way the Summit or Amanda Strange, who put on a masterful event, as usual (and who is, herself, a vaper).
I don't think the Summit could have projected the above narrative in this, first, US incarnation. But I do think it's worth noting that even those who now appear to provisionally support vaping, might only support a limited aspect of it - a "clean face" which is presented to them through access to a variety of social networks.
Amanda did, as she always does, make provisions for vapers to attend. I hope, as has happened with the UK Summits, that some connections were made that will prove fruitful for better understanding and co-operation in the future.
  • Irish Lass

    An excellent and interesting post. I'm glad opinions are slooowly starting to change in the US, but saddened at the lack of engagement by those in positions of power with reps of the legion of smaller companies and vapers.
    I am encouraged a wee little bit by the doubts you encountered over the regulatory process currently being adopted, and just hope any beneficial change in the process does not come to late to save this wonderful opportunity for our generation to reduce the harm caused by smoking.
    (However, I cannot believe that this particular genie will ever go completely back into the bottle, whatever happens. The e-cig has been invented, is now part of history, and I believe that too many people love vaping to let it be 'uninvented' or forever forgotten....though it may have to be re-launched by a wiser, future generation if the ignorant and malicious have their way for now.)
    Is enough being done by the smaller companies and vapers themselves to organise into sizeable groups in order to be large and loud enough to be seen and heard by the Powers That Be??
    What about the media in the US? Is there any honest and unbiased review of vaping taking place (anything I've seen on American TV to date has been very negative) and, if not, can anything be done to improve media coverage?
    In the UK, despite appalling newspaper coverage (we do love a "shock, horror!" headline!), a sensible piece of TV journalism by a respected popular scientist, and the excellent report on vaping by the Royal College of Physicians, have been helpful in undoing some of the harm caused by misleading scare stories, particularly in the minds of some of our more reasonable politicians (a dying breed?). Is anything similar happening over there?
    Thanks for an informative post. After recent news, your assessment was no beam of sunshine, but maybe a small ray of light in the darkness. With some hope - and all digits crossed - that sense may prevail in time.

  • castello

    Where did you hear the optimistic info from Tobacco Control? This is the first I've heard of any major movement in their tone about vaping.

  • jb0nez

    "And doesn’t the US constitution protect Americans in the pursuit of their happiness?"

    No, the Constitution (capitol C!) does not. The Declaration of Independence opens with it, but is not law.

    Good post otherwise!

  • John Harvey Lauterbach

    The problem with most e-liquid, device, and combination manufacturers is that they do not want to retain on an affordable, short-term, contract basis competent regulatory scientists to review the chemistry and toxicology of their ingredients and materials used in manufacture and the stability and performance of their products over a range of typical consumer behaviors. I have approached several such entities and been approached by others. Our fees for such work are minor compared with the costs of attorneys specializing in FDA regulation. However, it appears that companies do not want to know adverse information about their products or receive recommendations about needed changes in formulations, materials, and/or designs.

    Sooner or later, such companies will need to provide the same information to the FDA and may have their products ruled off the market on the basis of improper ingredients, materials, and/or processing conditions. For example, some e-juice companies are using sugars in their formulations. Sugars pyrolyze when heated to give toxicants on the FDA HPHC list. Other components are not shelf-stable and some devices are likely to overheat the e-liquid. It is time that all in the e-vapor industry get their products up to the same standards as those coming from the major tobacco companies and know what is in the aerosol stream being inhaled by the consumers.


  • Paul Muad'Dib

    How many people have died from using ecigs so far?

  • Norm Bour

    Great overview and insight, Oliver, thanks for sharing.

  • Rain Man

    Oliver- Very well reasoned and astute observations!

    Are you available for cloning and relocation to the colonies?
    I have a room walking distance to FDA HQ and not far from downtown D.C., that could be available rent free. :D

  • John Harvey Lauterbach

    Reply to Oliver Kershaw.

    Thank you for your comments. One venue for the development of consensus standards is the US Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to SC3 of ISO TC 126 on Tobacco and Tobacco Products. The US TAG works under the auspices of ANSI and SC3 operates quite independently of TC 126 and its two other SCs. Unfortunately, most US-based e-vapor companies have not joined that TAG.

    Just a word about my background: Ph.D. in carbohydrate chemistry from "Sugar Alley" at The Ohio State University (12/70). First 10 years in industry were mostly in adhesives, coatings, food ingredients and foods. Joined a major US tobacco company, 9/80, with responsibilities for detailed analyses of tobacco and tobacco smoke, later on to include routine analyses, before becoming part of the company's scientific and regulatory affairs (S&RA) group, 9/96, with focus on chemistry of ingredients added to tobacco, processing, cigarette nontobacco materials and packaging. Also, became company's representative for in vitro toxicology work done at outside labs. Passed exams for board certification in general toxicology (DABT) in 2001 and current certification good through 2021. Was early retired 10/1/04 and immediately started my own company, Lauterbach & Associates, LLC, to provide "big-company" S&RA services on "hourly" basis to small business tobacco (and now e-vapor) manufacturers. We have been involved in e-vapor since 2008 and have given more than several presentations on chemistry of e-vapor products.

    While there is an increasing body of evidence that most vaping is much safer than smoking of combustible tobacco products, that doesn't give license for e-vapor manufacturers to use anything at any level to make a product attractive to consumers. Sooner or later, the FDA is going to compare HPHC levels produced by various brand-styles e-liquids in presumably some sort of standard device(s) for e-liquids not packaged in cartomizers or single-use devices. The Agency may also require that e-liquids be analyzed before and after heating to simulate high temperatures that may be encountered in commercial transit and consumers leaving products in hot environments. If I were an e-liquid manufacturer, I would want to compare my products with those marketed by the Nu Mark subsidiary of Altria both from detailed analytical information on product composition and on generation of HPHC.

    Questions and comments, please.


  • Lessifer

    Great post Oliver. This line is worrisome to me though "Product innovation should be encouraged. It’s true that vape products are not yet good enough."

    I'm definitely not against innovation. What worries me is the idea that the products are "not yet good enough." Good enough for what? This suggests the notion that vapor products need to become better treatments for smoking addiction. While many vapers do quit smoking by vaping, I believe that viewing vapor products in this light is heading in a dangerous direction.

    It is perfectly acceptable for consumers to enjoy a product with minimal to zero harm, purely for the sake of enjoyment.

  • Bill Godshall

    Vapor prohibitionists acknowledging that vaping is less harmful than smoking isn't new (and cannot be considered progress), as FDA's Mitch Zeller, former CDC director Tom Frieden, DHHS funded Stan Glantz, etc. have all acknowledged that vaping is less harmful than smoking as they continue to demonize and lobby for FDA's Deeming Ban.

    But its nice to read your skepticism about this event.

  • Chase Richardson

    BRILLIANT piece Oliver, thank you so much for your recap! And a big thank you to the commenters for such a great discussion!