This year, President Joe Biden publicly lauded small business week (May 1-7) remarking that “small businesses across America have shaped and embodied our Nation’s entrepreneurial spirit and driven our economy forward.” In this year’s statement, the president acknowledged how the “pandemic … devastated America’s small business community.”
Unfortunately, thousands of small businesses are struggling and are not being acknowledged by the government. The most underappreciated small businesses are in the vapor industry. Despite helping thousands to quit smoking, vapor product manufacturers and the vape shops that sell harm reduction products are mistakenly accused by many in the tobacco control field of being “Big Tobacco”.
These small businesses are essential in promoting harm reduction. The vape shop staff helps people who smoke find the right device, flavor, and nicotine level to “substitute the physical, psychological, social, cultural, and identity-related dimensions that were previously enjoyed by tobacco smoking,” using a product that is 95 percent safer than smoking cigarettes. Vape shops not only help customers quit smoking, they also help them from returning to smoking.
Unlike government-funded smoking cessation services, the services vape shops provide to consumers don’t cost taxpayers a dime. The use of vapor products could also reduce taxpayer-funded expenses of those suffering from smoking-related illnesses.
The vapor industry also makes a substantial contribution to the nation’s economy, but excessive regulations are causing this financial contribution to be eroded. Hundreds of small businesses have been shuttered due to ideological antipathy to safer smoking alternatives. The industry has seen a steep decline in jobs and revenues from 2018 to 2021, amounting to more than a $2.3 billion reduction in total economic output.
The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) premarket tobacco application (PMTA) process is so cost-prohibitive that most of the small vapor businesses don’t have the finances or manpower to comply. This leaves the door open to the products sold by large tobacco companies and a handful of larger vapor companies. The few marketing orders granted to e-cigarette products are not products sold in most vape shops. In fact, the FDA has denied nearly 1 million products that were manufactured by small businesses and sold by vape shops.
The vapor industry has been crippled by such regulations, as well as proposed draconian taxes, product bans, and a stubborn refusal by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to acknowledge that the so-called vaping lung scare in 2019 were not related to regulated nicotine products.
The COVID-19 pandemic simply piled further pressure on many of these small businesses as they were deemed non-essential and had to close their doors for an extended amount of time. Many had to secure loans just to stay afloat and pay employees, rent, and utilities.
Vapor businesses have closed, loans are unpaid and being turned over for collection, commercial spaces sit empty, owners have gone bankrupt, and employees have lost their jobs. Vaping consumers wishing to remain smoke-free are left with high nicotine products sold in gas stations or a return to smoking.
The sad truth is that 480,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related causes. The companies owned by people who used to smoke help members of their communities stop smoking and are working hard to reduce the number of annual deaths. The vapor industry is eager to see President Biden’s statement to prioritize investment in “Made in America” manufacturing so small businesses can innovate, compete, and build the products of tomorrow become a reality. But words won’t be enough. There has to be some power put back in the hands of the little guys and regulations that protect only the big corporations should be halted.
If Biden truly wants to celebrate “America’s small businesses and their enormous contributions to American life and prosperity,” he should instruct government institutions to cease actions that are destroying grassroots enterprises which have saved thousands of lives and could save many thousands more.
Martin Cullip is an International Fellow at The Taxpayers Protection Alliance's Consumer Center and is based in South London, UK. Kim Murray is a Research Fellow at The Taxpayers Protection Alliance’s Consumer Center.