Past, Present, and Future. An employee's perspective on the state of the industry.
My name is Matthew Protzman, I am currently the Wholesale and Marketing Director for HardcoreVapers.US / Vape Dojo / Charlie Noble E-Liquid.
“The safest way to have sex, is to not have sex at all. The safest way to smoke, is to not smoke at all. But for the rest of us, there’s condoms and e-cigs.” – Allison Gilliland
I have seen or worked most roles in this industry in the two and a half years that I have been a part of it. I first started as a sales associate at Vape Dojo’s Ellicott City, MD location in December of 2013. I was instantly in love. The saying that you never work a day in your life if you do what you love was never anything but words to me. All day, I was able to help people. And not just in a ringing people up, and being courteous kind of way. I was REALLY helping people.
We’ve all heard the stories of people coming into a Vape Shop for the first time because they heard that it could help them quit smoking. Most of the people reading this have experienced it, on one side of the counter or the other. I would show these customers how the devices worked, how to charge it, how to fill it with e-liquid, tell them that I quit and how it helped me, we would try different flavors until we find one that they liked. I would ring them up, set them up, and say good luck!
This part was great.
There wasn’t a day that went by that this didn’t happen at least once. But it paled in comparison to the experience of them coming back. When a customer comes back, with their device in hand, and finds me to say that they’ve been a day, a week, or a month free of cigarettes, I almost wanted to cry.
I think the most interesting and beautiful thing about the vaping industry is that it is as diverse as smokers are. There are seniors, young people, males, females, all races and religions. We all smoked, and we’re all trying to better ourselves in at least one way.
Growing up, most people wanted to be a firefighter, a doctor, lawyer, or a police officer. I believe that most people are born with an inherent desire to help, to make others happy, or to want to change the world. I never thought that I would get that from this job, or that it would be so rewarding.
After my position at Ellicott City, I moved to our then newly opened store in Middle River, MD, where I became the store manager. It was right around then that I began developing a passion not only for my customers, but for the industry itself. I became active in social media groups, made friends with fellow vapers, and witnessed this industry become a community.
Vape Dojo attended our first convention, DC Vapefest, in March of 2014. I had never seen anything like it in my life. An entire hotel ballroom in Dulles filled with vapers and vendors. All sorts of new hardware and e-liquid samples that we had never seen or tried. All of this creativity and innovation pooled into one place. We began attending more and more shows, and I felt like the luckiest guy in the world. I was absolutely blessed to have met so many people of all walks of life that I now call friends or family.
Several months after that, I took on the role that I am currently in, director of marketing and wholesale. One of the brands that we manufacture, Charlie Noble E-Liquid, sold its first bottle of e-liquid shortly after that in July of 2014, and we began wholesale shortly after that. My job turned into a career. A career that is now at risk.
On May the 10th, the FDA released their deeming rule, the regulations that everyone would need to follow in order to be compliant and continue to sell vaping products. To continue to help people. I remember waking up that morning, going to work, and constantly refreshing my phone to check tweets and Facebook posts for the initial impressions of my peers.
It wasn’t good. I walked in the door of our shop where everyone was gathered, and said, “It’s all fucked. We’re all fucked.” It just didn’t make sense to me.
E-liquid and vaporizers SHOULD be regulated. But it should have been done responsibly and fairly. No more bathtub juice, no more marketing to children, no more blatant copyright infringement, proper warning labels. E-liquid should be manufactured with proper safety standards in a sterile environment. There should be testing procedures in place. Devices and hardware should fall under the same guidelines to ensure the safety of consumers everywhere. I think all (or at least most) of us agree with these things.
But these regulations. This 500 page document that the FDA released. What was this? As someone who spent the last several years of their life in the industry, it hurt my soul. We had a REAL chance to help people who didn’t have any hope left. Who thought they were going to be smokers for the rest of their lives. People who have watched their loved ones die from lung cancer, heart disease, COPD, stroke, or any other number of conditions.
And the FDA gave us two years before it would all die.
Every product, every SKU number would require a Pre-Market Tobacco Application. This application is estimated to cost somewhere between $300,000-$1,000,000 per SKU number. As a manufacturer, we currently produce somewhere around 250 unique products between bottle sizes, flavors, nicotine strengths, etc. To submit an application for each our products, we’d be looking at spending $75,000,000 - $250,000,000 just for the testing required to submit the application with no guarantee of our products being able to go to market afterwards.
The whole industry was going to die, and it seemed hopeless.
How can we be optimistic about a future so grim? The answer is simple. We have two years that we can use to help save as many smokers as possible, whether or not this industry comes to an end.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still got fight left in me. We still have HR 2058, the Cole Bishop Amendment, several lawsuits against the FDA. I still send letters, make phone calls, and I encourage you all to do the same. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
I started working in this industry because I was passionate about the product, and about its ability to help smokers lead a healthier lifestyle. Vaping saved my life, maybe it saved yours too. It’s important for us not to give up and to push forward.
As many chains as government regulation is tying to us, we still have time. There are still thousands of people out there that could use our help.
Now more than ever is a time to unite like we never have before. If you were in the 91% that think everyone else is taking care of it, it’s time to start participating.