Husband and wife duo Tracy Musgrove and James Herakovich are the proud owners of Revolutionary Vapes, a brick and mortar vape store in Williamsburg, Virginia. Committed to raising awareness about vaping and advocating for the industry during this regulatory showdown with the FDA, Sheerlie Ryngler of Vape Organics talked to Tracy about the regulations and how vape shops are affected.
Sheerlie: As many people feel increasingly threatened by the regulations, how do you feel as a business owner?
Tracy: Although we certainly feel the FDA’s deeming regulations are over-reaching and not based on sound scientific evidence, we also feel it is important that the industry as a whole be regulated in some way. We truly believe that these regulations will eventually be adjusted to be more in accordance with reasonable safety standards that make sense. Part of that regulation should certainly include how e-juice is manufactured. We at Revolutionary Vapes specialize in organic e-liquid and have always only purchased juice from companies that produce their product in certified laboratories using best manufacturing practices. Therefore, we don’t feel threatened by the regulations and are proactively working with elected officials and regulatory agencies toward reasonable and effective standards for the industry. We feel that we are in a good position and are actually in a growth stage with our business, where unfortunately there are those in the industry who are creating exit strategies.
Sheerlie: As of August 8th, there is a ban on free samples; how integral is your tasting bar to your business? Have you found any creative solutions around this ban?
Tracy: We have always had a tasting bar in our store and sampling has been an important aspect of our business up until this point. Since August 8th, we have been charging our customers $1 per visit when they wish to sample. However, our strategy moving forward is to eliminate our tasting station all together and instead create an electronic juice information station in its place. With several electronic tablets that will be displayed on mounted devices, customers will be able to review the flavor profiles of all of our juices, detailed information about manufacturers, and reviews… we believe our customers will appreciate this solution to making a truly informed purchasing decision.
Sheerlie: Do you think it’s important to deepen the partnership between store owners and manufacturers of all kinds during this time?
Tracy: I most certainly believe that it is vital that all of us in the vape industry support each other, which will facilitate our maturity as an industry. This is definitely the direction that the vape industry needs to move in, and in my opinion the only way that we will all survive in the end. Thus, I would encourage everyone in the industry to join a national and state trade association if they have not already done so.
Sheerlie: What kind of questions and concerns are your customers voicing right now? Are there any services you will no longer be able to offer and how do you think that will affect business?
Tracy: We have been preparing our clients for changes, such as limitations to services we are able to offer in the store, including no coil builds, not being able to put their equipment together, etc. We have very intentionally avoided using doomsday-type language as we discuss the regulations with clients. Instead, we are communicating with our clients about the regulations as they stand now, what the industry is trying to do to change them, as well as what they can do as consumers to affect these necessary changes. This includes encouraging them to register to vote, contact their elected officials to make their voices heard, exhibit responsible vape practices, and consider joining CASAA—a national vape consumer association. Our clients have all been very supportive and understanding during this time of change. We are very encouraged by their reactions.
Sheerlie: In light of the deeming regulations, what challenges, if any, do you anticipate in reaching and serving prospective vapers and what ideas can you share about how to move past these obstacles?
Tracy: I believe that hands down the two biggest obstacle the deeming regulations pose to reaching smokers are: firstly, limitations placed on vape shops in comparing vaping and smoking; and, secondly, media bias against vaping. There is a whole slew of credible scientific evidence that is literally being ignored by the FDA and the media. Valid scientific studies, such as that produced very recently by the Royal College of Physicians, has been given zero attention by the FDA or the media.
What is not being said is that the true motivation behind the deeming regulations is purely financial: fear of declining tobacco tax revenues and Master Settlement Agreement payments as a result of less smokers. The pharmaceutical industry—especially those making drugs to treat ailments caused by smoking—also has a great deal of influence over the FDA given the money they provide and their powerful lobby in Washington. This is very gloomy, but in general, the public needs to understand this is a battle rooted in protecting revenue streams and is not based in the protection of public health.
What we can do to move past these obstacles is educate, educate, educate! Tell your personal stories. Change the narrative that is out there right now, and share the true facts about vaping. Most importantly, exercise your voice with your elected officials.
Sheerlie: Are there any business practices you feel are especially important for stores to implement now that our entire industry is being heavily monitored?
Tracy: Stores need to understand the regulations and follow them to the best of their ability. It is vital that we demonstrate ours is an industry that can handle being regulated. Regardless of whether or not we agree with the laws, as a business community we need to comply while simultaneously advocating for change. We must strive to be viewed as a responsible, mature industry of professionals.
Sheerlie: What aspect of the regulations is most concerning for you? How do you think vape shop owners can mobilize their power to effectively stand for our industry?
Tracy: The aspect of the regulations most concerning for me is the quashing of growth –including innovation that can continue to improve the safety and quality of the products in our industry. What every store should do is join a national and a state trade association if they have not already done so, as well as educate clients, elected officials, and the community about the truth regarding vaping… and, of course, vote!
Sheerlie: What resources have you found helpful in navigating the regulations? How do you feel about the organizations leading the fight? How do you think the vape advocacy movement can grow?
Tracy: We have found both SFATA and VTA to be wonderful national-level resources, and we support and are active in both organizations, but the need for advocacy does not end at the national level. We can look to states such as Indiana, California, and Pennsylvania as evidence of this. Thus, in our state of Virginia, Revolutionary Vapes, along with six other businesses in the vape industry, came together to form a state chapter of SFATA. This is a battle in which we must come together as a united industry and fight as a united industry. SVBS
Sheerlie Ryngler is the Director of Operations and Creative Director for Vape Organics, the first certified organic e-liquid line. A native of Los Angeles, Sheerlie has traveled extensively, receiving her BA in International Relations and MA in Conflict Resolution. She has been a passionate activist for a number of causes around the world; for almost two years Sheerlie has focused her attention on the vape industry and believes that standards of excellence and commitment to progress are crucial to ensuring its continued success. Contact Sheerlie at [email protected] or visit her website at www.pureorganicvapors.com.