Vape advocates hope to educate owners on pending FDA regulations


When Gregory Conley gives talks about tightening federal regulations related to e-cigarette and vape products, he usually gets three reactions.

1. He's preaching to the choir.

2. People realize it's worse then they thought.

3. Pure shock.

Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, an industry advocacy group, said the new regulations proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would eliminate 99 percent of the thousands of vape shops that have popped up around the country.

That includes the dozens that have popped up in the York County area over the years.

"We are talking a large number of small and medium businesses," he said. "It might be cliche, but it's their American dream."

Many independent vape shops remain unclear on the implications of those proposed changes, which is something industry advocacy groups are hoping to change through a grass-roots education effort across Pennsylvania.

That means criss-crossing the country giving a lot of talks, answering a lot of emails and ramping up social media efforts.

York County vape shop owners have previously said they were in support of the regulations but would not comment about potential education efforts from advocacy groups.

Classification: This summer, the FDA plans to release rules that would characterize e-cigarettes as tobacco products. Changes would include health warning labels as well as testing of ingredients for vaping and e-cigarette products.

It also means more stipulations, according to Conley.

"We wish this process only involved testing ingredients," he said. "The requirement that products retroactively undergo premarket review is a multi-million dollar process that involves not just toxicology but also behavioral psychology and physiology. "

Vaping started becoming popular in the early 2000s and has remained largely unregulated until the last few years. Vaping is the act of inhaling a vapor from a nicotine-infused juice that is "smoked" through an electronic cigarette. Some people vape with solutions that contain only flavor and no nicotine.

Education: Chris Hughes, owner of Fat Cat Vapor Shop in Montoursville, Lycoming County, said he started becoming an advocate after joining the Pennsylvania chapter of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association.

He said the monthly newsletters and talks have helped him understand what his business could be in for both locally and nationally.

"The proposed FDA regulations pose a serious threat to the industry," Hughes said. "Vapor business owners can best educate themselves on pending state and federal regulatory issues by joining with the existing state SFATA chapter."

Conley said once he explains the regulations to many store owners, it's not hard to drum up support to fight the restrictions.

Like Conley, most owners credit e-cigarettes with helping them quit traditional smoking.

"That's what happened to me," he said. "In a way, I found a passion for advocacy in this."

Conley encourages small vape shops to write to their local officials about the regulations. He also encourages customers to get involved.

"It can be hard, given this is a group that might not regularly wear a suit or get involved politically," he said. "The vaping community is a passionate one — getting support isn't hard."

Restrictions: Despite opposition, state health leaders have said the restrictions are needed to keep residents safe and healthy.

Dr. Karen Rizzo, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, has said the marketing of these products has been shifted to teenagers interested in experimenting .

"From our perspective, the more it's regulated, the more information will spread about potential consequences of tobacco," she said.

Bill Godshall, executive director of Smokefree Pennsylvania, an organization that works to protect nonsmokers from secondhand-smoke, called the "war" against e-cigarettes an unfair and unscientific one.

He continues to testify before the FDA about the positive impacts e-cigarettes have for those who use them and whose livelihoods depend on them.

"I was there when the first vape shops opened here," he said. "For many owners, these shops are personal."

Hughes said vape shops have grown in popularity organically, slowly growing to all parts of the state, including York County.

"Vaping has grown very rapidly in Pennsylvania and across the country primarily from word of mouth," Hughes said. "In my experience as a shop owner, the overwhelming majority of users very quickly find that substituting these products for cigarettes has a positive impact on their life."

— Reach Sara Blumberg at