Thoughts from Charlie

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 Past

 

“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.

 

The Present
“1% of vapers are actively donating to advocacy or calling representatives and legislators, 9% of vapers think the other 91% are doing enough that they don’t have to, and the last 90% don’t have any idea that anything is going on at all.”

 

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.

 

The Future
 
“I feel like the FDA told me I have to paint every picture I want by August 8th and then I can paint no more. It sucks.” – Clinton Legg, G2 Vapor / Liquid Art 

 

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.

  • A. HAGG says...

    I have enjoyed reading this thoroughly, I am a loyal CN customer and I find nothing but the best every time. Amazing read.

    On January 16, 2017

  • J Choi says...

    From a consumer perspective, I think it’s important to identify some missteps we took, and how to shift the arguments going forward:

    Calling it “ecig” may have been the worst decision to start off. I get it, it was labeled to lure smokers, but from a regulation perspective it’s hard to argue that it’s completely different product when it was self-labeled to relate to it.

    I believe what most of us enjoy in vaping has transcended the smoking cessation aspect. It’s more so into the hobbyist/enthusiast level. Sure, keeping off cigs is a huge bonus, but that could still be achieved through lesser means. A a cig-a-like (i.e. JUUL) or ego pen (Joyetech AIO) performs above and beyond what most of us started off with almost 3 years ago, and are honestly good enough to help people quit smoking (given the right nic level).

    To my limited perspective, what the FDA’s position (which hasn’t changed since it’s draft version 2 years ago) is that they don’t care to oversee 10,000 products. They’re only interested in about 100. The ridiculously priced PMTA achieves that. They also made it clear that they don’t give a hoot about “clouds bro clouds”. It’s certainly unfair that they decided to flat line a rather harmless lifestyle, but it’s not like the vaping culture had a good PR front out there (very much self inflicted).

    Assuming the worst case scenario, I think vaping survives, but not in the form we currently enjoy. Only the tried-and-true juices will survive as an investment by juice companies. Juice prices will climb, people will vape higher nic and lower wattages to compensate. Only the tried-and-true hardware will survive as well. A 12mg MTL 15 watt vape off a kayfun (pretty much 2 years ago), will likely return as the norm for the rebuilders. Bottom line is, I’ll still be vaping and staying off cigs, one way or another.

    All that said, there’s still a middle ground we can achieve against these deeming regulations.

    On August 06, 2016

  • Christopher Chin says...

    I own a retail shop and everyday I tell my customers about the impending FDA oversight. They all walk away with jaws on the floor at how ridiculous the rules are. But, I don’t see any fire in their eyes to want to help or do anything. It’s as if they don’t care about their health. I don’t think they fully understand the ramifications of the deeming regs even after I’ve spelled it out in plain everyday 5th grader language. I’m assuming most of them will just go back to cigarettes, since they’re so irreverent about it all. I think that’s the 91% that you’re referring to. The shops, if they’re worth their salt, are doing all they can to educate and inform their customers. It’s not just up to the shops, but the vaping community as well. Let’s hope the lawsuits filed against the FDA come to fruition for the industry as we all need to save lives as much as we can. Fight the power!! (Public Enemy just popped in my head)

    On August 05, 2016

  • Sonny Johnson says...

    Thank you for those words. This is not the end at all , but just the start . It is the start of a battle that will be fought until its won

    On August 05, 2016

  • Jay Oku says...

    Arm in Arm / Side by Side
    Together we Stand united we fall.
    You struck a chord with your heartfelt post…. Helping smokers is the reward… Seeing friends, family members and customers make the the switch to this harm reduction technology is what it’s all about and we have millions more to help. We also have many more counsel members and Congressional representatives to educate. It’s great to see companies like yours doing things with class and legitimizing the industry.
    Let’s all continue to educate and when the going gets rough I echo your sentiment:
    “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.” Keep up the Good Work Charlie Noble/ Vape Dojo family.

    On August 05, 2016

  • Bryan Hartshorn says...

    Thank you!!! Absolutely a wonderful piece!
    I must admit, I was very moved and inspired and have a need to fight now, more than ever before !!!….. Thankyou !!!

    On August 05, 2016

  • Paul M. says...

    Very moving, and we’ll written. Thank you Matt, you have inspired me to taken action.
    As John Paul Jones once said “I have not yet begun to fight!”

    On August 04, 2016

  • William Boyce says...

    I smoked cigarettes for almost 20 year from 13 to 33 vaping changed my life and my kids future. I can breathe better I have more stamina at work to keep going and I just feel so much healthier. Thank you to everyone that is doing something to protect our rights as a vaper I send and call whenever I can. Hope everyone jumps at the chance to do something.

    On August 04, 2016

  • c curtis says...

    Thank you so much for this. At almost 4 years smoke free and feel like this was a life changer for me. It has also helped me help others. I wish more people would take it seriously and fight for what they love.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Michael Tobey says...

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Going on 6 years tobacco free!

    #vapingsavedmylife

    On August 04, 2016

  • Harold Hernandez says...

    Thanks Matt. You have made me smile today while I cry. What a great testimony…

    On August 04, 2016

  • Dave Harlow says...

    Matt, I remember when I was managing SS in Timonium and you would come in and hang out with us, it was a amazingly diverse group of us on any given night, we had yuppies, hipsters, Hip-Hop guys, people in recovery from other issues, people who worked blue collar and white collar jobs, I often use to sit in amazement and think, these same people wouldnt talk if in line together at the grocery store, but Vaping and how it helped them bridged that Gap and we all had a blast. I worked like crazy hours there.. but it was so worth it, the people who would come back as you said and act as if You where a god cause you sold them the vape which got them off cigs after so many failed attempts. It was like a high for me, cause I know how hard it was for me to quit smoking.

    I am active in voicing my opinion, however, I have also found out alot of people in our industry have moved from “leading the new wave of technology” to being a business person, and with that being said, some of these companies should be putting more money into advocacy to save their industry too. I know of several who are playing the lets wait and see approach.. which unfortunately will likely bite them in the ass, we all new regulation was coming, instead of sponsoring race cars (for instance) maybe that advertising money should have been put into advocacy to save the industry.. and from my direct experience the companies I worked with I thought where good, they ended up not being at the upper level and hense..

    On August 04, 2016

  • Doug says...

    Never give up,
    There will still be some who will make juice regardless, do not let Big tobacco win, if you have a lawsuit you want to file, file it! Continue to write letters,make phone calls, have peaceful and respectful ralleys.

    Don’t give up.

    They can try and shut us down, but that will just open up a vapor black market.

    It’s our right to vape and your right to be in business. I’m sure there’s lawsuit in which could be placed against the FDA.

    SUPPORT THE CAUSE

    On August 04, 2016

  • Lisa Marion says...

    I’m speechless..your words have left my heart aflutter with possibilities but yet heart broken that this industry may be doomed!

    On August 04, 2016

  • Josh says...

    Great post Matt, everything that’s going on is such bullshit. I’ve tried vaping on and off since 2009 and finally was able to quit smoking after 20 years 3 months ago. I’ve gotten huge into the scene of mods, building coils and making E Liquid. Its such a shame that the government noticed how large this market is getting and wants to stomp it out. I’ve literally tired everything big pharma has to offer in order to quit from the gum, to fucking want to kill yourself chantix and it never worked. Not even close at all, the first sub ohm tank and mod I picked up I quit instantly, it works that well. Its crazy they want to take all of this away from us. Honestly I’ve said it plenty of times that if there’s anyway this is worse than smoking (which I doubt) I would still rather vape, I don’t smell like ass, my house doesn’t smell like ass, I can actually smell and taste things again, I don’t hack all day long, I mean how could this not be better even if its worse for me.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Jeff Moody says...

    #FINISHTHEFIGHT

    On August 04, 2016

  • James Gonzalez says...

    I am a 28+ year addict and have been vaping for the last 4 years. It really stumps me how people would rather a #handcheck then donate a dollar to help our cause. I am one that has been trained to think that the market will correct itself and we will prevail but it’s just hard to believe, when this nation has been overrun by Oligarchs, spoiling our representatives with unlimited amounts of cash.

    I must believe in this thing of ours, the last time I checked there were almost 6 million vaper’s and that is a number that can sway an election. For those that have money please give and help our cause build a structure that can withstand the blows from Big Pharma and Big Tobacco. Those that are less fortunate and can’t give, pick up a phone and call your representative, get involved and let your voices be heard. “This thing of ours saves lives,” letting them know that e-cig’s have the capacity to save medicaid Billions of Dollars, in turn allowing our communities to thrive, and allow precious time to the lives of people in our families that have smoked for years.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Terry Day says...

    I smoked for 43 years. Then I started vaping. Next month will mark 3 years of vaping and 3 years without a tobacco cigarette, I feel a lot better, my husband no longer has to put up with second hand smoke, and I’m saving a lot of money. It’s a win – win. I buy my e-juice by the half gallon and pay about $1.30 USD per 30 ml bottle. Coils for my mech mod are $1.50 each and last about a month. I’m spending less than $10/ month on vaping vs $300+ per month on tobacco cigarettes.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Mike C says...

    I feel you on everything said in this article. I’ve made a career in this industry as a Marketing Director and now that’s just about ended. I was a 2 pack a day smoker for 20 years and vaping has been the only thing to get me off of cigarettes. Sad to see such a revolutionary product basically being stripped away. Something that has helped saved my life as well as countless of others. We shall keep fighting the good fight until the end.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Pico D says...

    I love your breakdown Matt. I for one have been tobacco free since Feb.’14 and started with 24 mg nic now im with 3mg . With all that is going on it is time for me to lower down to 1.5 then zero. I dont see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is all about money. Big Pharma and Big tobacco has lost millions and now they want it back. And so they did whatever they had to do in order to make that happen. And so here we are. Its too bad too, Vaping will never be the same. Im with JD Holt on this “The FDA is laughing at our pathetic straw grasping. Save yourself ,your family, and plan your exit strategy”

    On August 04, 2016

  • Eli kaczka says...

    Health organizations should be begging the FDA to not take away such a powerful tool such as the ecig! These regulations are out of line and vaping needs its own category!

    On August 04, 2016

  • Donald Grant says...

    I have been away from tobacco thanks to vaping. Nothing else worked.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Sheba Love says...

    This industry will adapt and survive.

    We are only as strong as our weakest link, and in regards to real advocacy everyone who is a real advocate has been rock solid.

    That 99 percent… we know who they are, and I personally won’t forget how they did nothing when we needed them most.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Tom says...

    Well said Matt!
    I was a smoker for 32 years who tried to quit several times.
    I’m 2 years 2 months cigarette-free thanks to spot products and have never felt better! I pay this industry is able to endure and continue saving lives.
    We all need to keep calling, writing and educating.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Mike says...

    That’s the problem… The industry is putting the burden of fighting the war on the customer. Stop asking customers to donate money – we donate plenty everytime we spend $20+ on a 30ml bottle of juice that costs about $1.50 to produce. How much has the industry donated to the cause? Kennedy, the guys who make the $120 rdas, recently bragged about donating a whopping $500 to CASAA… big deal. 2nd, in just about every battle, we’ve been asked to call governors, senators, etc and that has FAILED every time! Any surprise it hasn’t worked in the FDA battle? Nope. The FDA is not interested in keeping people healthy, time to change this poor strategy.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Cavan Westlubd says...

    Well written about a sad truth that we are all facing.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Victoria Martin says...

    Matt your message touched my heart. I am a 61 year old vaper who was one of the ones who never thought they could quit smoking. Everyone has a story like mine. You encouraged me not to give up fighting…I belong to every advocacy group out there and am looking forward to volunteering my help next month when I retire. Thank you for the hopeful message. All is not lost as long as we can still spread the information and save lives.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Gina Sassi says...

    We will keep fighting the good fight! Thank you for this. I belive the truth always prevails. It will in this situation as well. Hopefully sooner then later.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Tim Fowler says...

    well said Matt thank you

    On August 04, 2016

  • Michelle Reaves says...

    Very well put!

    On August 04, 2016

  • Sylvia Maxson says...

    Spoken with passion and dignity. Very well said Matt.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Alex Golden says...

    I like the positive voice with which you speak. Big Government and BigTobacco are a force that must be vanquished. Here’s to 730 days of clean fighting, hopefully crowned by victory over the far reach of a corrupt and failing government being subsidized by a murderous corporate army. To those who earn their livelihood from the vape industry? You have my respect and gratitude.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Bart says...

    May I loosely paraphrase Dr Martin Luther King….We must stand together as vapers or perish together as fools. It takes little time and no cost to join an advocacy group or send an email to your government representative. PLEASE, do not sit back and think others will handle the fight. Thanks, Matt and Charlie Noble, my home town eliquid manufacturer. I may live in Colorado , but B’more will always be home. I enjoy hitting the Dojo each time I go back.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Dan Koven says...

    Well said, Matt. Agreed 100%.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Craig Lee says...

    This speaks to me directly, how I fell in love with the industry, what I get from helping people make the switch, and the amount of people I share information with about August 8th. There are so many local shops that our shop is close to, and we’re seeing all of them share the same blank, confused and worried look about the future.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Cyndi Merka, the Fairy Vapemother says...

    Thank you for this. I needed it, and I’m sharing it with others who do. Every day we have is a win, as long as we don’t waste it.

    On August 04, 2016

  • Cindy Leneave says...

    All must stand together! We all have a voice, now is the time to use that voice!

    On August 04, 2016

  • Shasta Lievers says...

    Stand up for what you believe in, Even if you stand Alone. We SHOULD NOT FEEL like we are standing alone. Sadly, I find myself feeling this way. I know Im not alone. I just wish there was more of us, taking the stand

    On August 04, 2016

  • Vince Sottile says...

    Beautiful words from a beautiful man. Thanks Matt. " Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning"- Winston Churchill

    On August 04, 2016

  • Kari Hess says...

    This spoke to my soul. Thank you.

    On August 04, 2016

  • JD Holt says...

    The FDA is laughing at our pathetic straw grasping. Save yourself ,your family, and plan your exit strategy

    On August 04, 2016

  • Chris Anderson says...

    We must stand together or we will for sure die alone in this fight..
    Thanks Matt

    On August 04, 2016

  • Tony Branczyk says...

    Love you Matt. This is just the first of many battles in a long war.

    On August 04, 2016

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