Zach Jones has always sounded like a man on a mission when talking about the business he co-owns with his brother: Max and Zach’s Vapor Shop.

To him, vaping isn’t just a trend, but a strategy to get cigarette smokers to make the switch to a safer alternative. He’s quick to tell you how it got him off his addiction to cigarettes, and his regret that it didn’t come along soon enough to save his father, a lifelong smoker who died too young.

Now, though, his passion is directed at saving the life of a business that he sees is in the life-saving business.

“I’ve had to let six people go based on the fact that we don’t have business right now because people are scared to vape, which for us is a public health travesty really,” Jones said.

“Anyone who’s trying to quit smoking with vaping has probably got all of their family members saying, ‘Hey, quit that, I read a headline and all of a sudden I know the whole story.’”

Jones said that news stories about vaping-related illnesses and deaths don’t always make it clear which products are involved: “A lot of people think it’s unregulated nicotine products or things like that. Essentially the only evidence they have right now is that it’s bootleg, black-market THC products, and these products contain vitamin E acetate.”

THC is a component of marijuana which is used in some illegal vaping products to produce a high.

In guidance issued Friday, the Food and Drug Administration warned against using vaping products containing THC or those obtained off the street or from other illicit or social sources.

It also warned against adding anything to commercially sold vaping liquids.

While the FDA guidance noted that vaping products have not been specifically authorized for any therapeutic uses, it also said, “If you are an adult who uses e-cigarettes instead of cigarette smoking, do not return to smoking cigarettes.”

Jones said he is concerned that widespread reporting in traditional and social media will lead to do exactly that—return to smoking cigarettes.

He is also concerned that people who might consider using vaping as a strategy to quit smoking could justify continuing to smoke based on poorly understood reports of issues with vaping.

And, he said the actual danger posed by THC-containing and black market products is not being adequately communicated.

As a business owner and someone who believes in the value of the product he sells, Jones said he has spoken with other vape shop owners about strategy and plans to call on public officials soon, both to keep vaping products available to adult users but also to address concerns about youth access.

He is supporting two regulations that could be instituted and enforced at the local level:

1. Restrict sales of flavored vaping products to establishments that are only open to persons 18 and up.

2. Prohibit sales of high-nicotine content vaping products.

He said that while state-level regulation takes longer, he would also like to see the state act to license vape shops and prohibit online sales.

While taking flavored liquids out of corner stores and gas stations would have the effect of eliminating some of his competition, Jones said that the regulations he would like to see would also cut into his own sales, as he does significant online sales and stocks some of the high-nicotine products.

The worst thing that governments can do, he said, it make blanket prohibitions that drive people into the black market, which is where the problems are coming from.

“None of these FDA-regulated products have any links to any of these deaths,” he said. 

“It’s not like we’ve suddenly changed the ingredients we’re putting in the things after five to six years of success. That’s one thing that people don’t seem to realize: We’ve been succeeding. We’ve been winning the battle against cigarettes for years now.”

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