Article - Juice Honesty
There is a truism I read somewhere that states that government policy always trails economic reality by an average of three years. The fact that government policy around the world has only just caught on to the tax revenue potential of legalized marijuana after about 60 years of brisk, somewhat furtive trade might be skewing those numbers a bit. But the fact remains that a savvy businessman who enters an industry at the right time can make quite a bit of profit for himself before government catches on and regulates him out of profitability.
The e-cigarette industry is bucking a lot of trends. In fact, one could state that the e-cigarette industry was founded on not only bucking trends, but on freeing people from an unacceptable set of trends. Since 2003, vaping has grown out of Chinese inventor, Han Li’s lab to a worldwide industry of roughly 7 billion dollars and growing. And to this day, there are still very few actual government regulations.
Doctors have been very careful not to actively advocate vapingas a quit smoking aid, or as a safer alternative to smoking. Doctors face two issues with vaping that has nothing to do with their personal opinions. One is the lack of long term studies. Vaping hasn’t been around long enough to compare the kind of long term damage vaping could do to the lungs compared to the damage smoking has been proven to do. Also, the plethora of unregulated products and sheer range of options available to consumers makes it impossible to draw a baseline for vapers to compare to smokers with large, generational, long term studies of people. Second is the lack of regulation itself. Without a legal framework behind them, doctors giving advice about vaping could make themselves vulnerable to the profit culture of the malpractice lawsuit industry.
It is easy to point to bureaucratic inertia as one of the main reasons for how slowly vaping is being evaluated and regulated. And to a certain extent that is true. The teams building self driving transport trucks are finding that the massive costs incurred in engineering the things are the smallest part of that particular revolution. The potential costs associated with responsibly regulating automated goods transportation in the European Union could be staggering, for example.
Vaping faces this sort of inertia, but for slightly different reasons. Like self driving trucks, vaping stands to destroy a long standing industry employing thousands and generating untold billions in profits, taxes, and fees. But unlike self driving trucks, the consumers of tobacco are harming themselves and others on a daily basis. We all agree that the tobacco industry needs to go away for the benefit of us all, yet there is a great deal of foot dragging on accepting vaping as an acceptable nail in that coffin.
Another reason is that no company is big enough yet to attract the attention of the big class action lawsuit culture. There has not and will not be an industry wide lawsuit for whatever reasonto galvanize public opinion yea or nay. There is plenty of money but it is divided up in too many pockets for this tactic to be beneficial to the consumer, the entrenched industry or even remotely profitable for the teams of lawyers looking for that big score.
I think a lot of this has to do with the one advantage that vapinghas had over any other emerging, disrupting trend in history- the internet and a community that cares very deeply about the fate of the industry. It is no longer possible for giants like Phillip Morris to protect their interests by flexing its muscles and quietly quashing the technology. It is not possible to manipulate public opinion with a marketing campaign. Nor is it possible for any other interest harmed by this emergence to simply bully it out of existence. The consuming public is too suspicious these days and too well informed, thanks to the internet.
Vapers use the internet to educate and support each other as well. What started as an alternative to traditional smoking cessation methods (all of which are awful), became a quietly defiant culture of self educated people prepared to enforce quality with boycotts and protect themselves with digital activism. They combine that defiance of “Big Stinky”, as some refer to the large tobacco corporations, with a generous welcome of time and advice to new users.
The manufacturers serving this market understand this as well. Technology is quickly developed to address the needs, wishes and concerns that arise in online discussion forums. They are also aware of just how quickly and savagely their sales will be affected if they fail their customers in any way. The days of ‘bathtub gin’ juice manufacturers are over. Anyone who produces shoddy quality product can be quickly boycotted and shamed.
Selling product in an environment lacking legal frameworks to a customer base with the sense of genial, easy-going cynicism that the internet empowers among this particular market, many manufacturers impose quality frameworks, equipment, lab tests, research and anything else they can think of on themselves to increase their credibility over their competitors. As a result, the vaping industry may be the first industry in history whose regulations and best practices are entirely crowd-sourced.
This may be the single greatest reason the big obstacles like government and lawyers haven’t dropped any roadblocks. They are waiting to see how this whole thing irons out. It is a glorious experiment. We are seeing the textbook definition of how pure capitalism is suppose to work for the benefit of us all. Customers want safety, quality and a good price. Manufacturers want to sell it to them and have to constantly improve to give it to them profitably. And in between, there is nothing. No special interest groups imposing obstacles for political or ideological reasons, no marketing campaigns to convince us that certain bad things are perfectly ok, or that one brand is better simply because its label is prettier and is what the cool people are vaping. And most importantly, there are no government regulations that set the barriers in stone, leaving enough loopholes for the unscrupulous to slip through. No, we demand quality, variety, and a good price and nothing is preventing the manufacturers from competing to give it to us.
And all we have to do is stay smart, keep our heads down, and look after each other.