Just last Wednesday, the San Francisco Department of Elections certified the signatures on a petition gathered by the Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation (CRVR). This successful petition ensured that a ballot initiative, sponsored in large part by Juul Labs and directly opposing San Francisco’s recent vape ban, would appear on the ballot later this year.
The question in the minds of many, at this point in the vape controversy, is whether we can trust the CRVR to advocate effectively for all vapers and smokers. As spokesperson for the Coalition Nate Allbee says, “There was no organized political movement around vapers until now.” While this is true and extremely significant, there are some questions about Juul’s central role in the coalition. Of this concern, Allbee says, “ No one is hiding the fact that Juul is a leader in our coalition, and it makes perfect sense to me that they are.”
Of course, in some ways, it does definitely make sense for Juul to lead the charge against San Francisco’s recent actions. They’ve got significant skin in the game, controlling upwards of 50% of the entire vape market. They’ve also been directly targeted on many levels by the FDA and lawmakers over the year. In fact, just as recently as last October, the FDA conducted a “surprise inspection” of Juul Labs headquarters. During this “inspection”, they seized thousands of documents pertaining to their marketing practices. This was after Juul had already complied with an FDA request for information on their research & marketing by providing over 50,000 pages voluntarily. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be much information regarding the outcome of this FDA raid, which hints that the inspection was the result of a frustrated FDA incapable of finding anything incriminating in the company’s files.
On the other hand, Juul Labs is undeniably similar to, and funded by, Big Tobacco, the longtime enemy of most vapers. There’s no denying that they share similar marketing strategies, for instance. Even if we’re not talking about targeting children, which is a matter up for debate, the claims that Juul is a health product, etc., rings very similarly to older cigarette campaigns. Likewise, they have snatched up just about every lobbyist they can get their hands on, appealing to groups as diverse as African-Americans, the LGBT community, and even mental health groups. This is enough to leave some concern in the minds of many vapers.
Add to this the fact that Juul Labs is only ever going to act in their own best interests. Recently, there has been a wave of Tobacco 21 laws sweeping the country. Although this law is just another useless and discriminatory policy, Juul is in favor of it. Why? This law does almost nothing to their bottom line, as 18- to 21-year-olds are only a fraction of their target demographic. It’s easy to see how Juul Labs will only be willing to carry this fight so far. When issues don’t affect their bottom line, they aren’t likely to move.
But the Coalition itself is vital and Allbee raises some extremely valid points regarding the lack of political unity among vapers. Vaping is, undeniably, under attack across the country. To provide a brief history of the recent crisis, we need only to look back a few months to the FDA’s decision to postpone decision on e-cigarettes until 2022. The department had decided to conduct a thorough study of e-cigarettes and allow for ample research regarding the relative health benefits and drawbacks of e-cigarette use among various populations.
Of course, this timeline was nowhere near quick enough for the diehard anti-vapers out there who incessantly decry the “vaping epidemic” among teenagers. In response, these parties pushed for sweeping anti-vape legislation, such as the most recent ban in San Francisco. Many believe these laws and policies are simply designed to pressure the FDA to move up their timeline and issue their judgment more quickly.
Because the very essence of the anti-vaping doctrine relies heavily upon pathos and hysteria, they need to keep momentum. Waiting for the science will inevitably disprove their claims (as many studies already have) and as time goes on, their cries of “epidemic” ring increasingly hollow.
This brings us to the present day, when the only seriously influential vaping coalition is headed by a morally-grey corporation whose motives need to be second-guessed at each turn. As vapers find themselves increasingly attacked in the press and by lawmakers, they need to begin seeking more reliable – and equally influential – parties. This shouldn’t prove too challenging, as large chunks of the population have come out in stark opposition to the San Francisco ban.
The L.A. Times, for instance, came out in opposition, printing: “Not only is it bad public policy to outlaw a legal product that’s widely available… but it’s bad public health policy to come down harder on the lesser of two tobacco evils.” Scientists and professors are also unified against the ban, with Professor Neal Benowitz of UCSF pointing out that “vaping has been proven to substantially increase quit rates.”
In this time of political turmoil, the vaping community needs to rally their support in favor of things like the recently-certified petition in San Francisco. We need people to lobby and advocate for the welfare of smokers and vapers everywhere – we just need it to be headed by an entity we can rely upon. And Juul? That ain’t it, sis.