A matte black box landed on my desk this week, holding inside it a glimpse of the future of vaping in the US. I don't think most vapers will like what was inside.
Every since the Food and Drug Administration released its final regulations on vaping products earlier this month, there's been much hand-wringing over how these new rules would shape the future of the industry. As soon as I flipped the lid to reveal a black, form-fitted foam kit of the latest model of blu e-cigarettes—one of the more profitable brands in the country—the future seemed a little more clear.
Each element of the blu Plus+ kit is self-contained and closed, giving the user zero access to any e-liquid and leaving zero room for either customization or error—but also keeping it sealed away from children, a prime concern of the FDA. Tucked beside two slender vape pens were four of the brand's seven e-liquid flavors, each individually sealed, boxed, and labelled with a nicotine warning that a spokesperson for the brand told me already meets the labeling requirements of the new regulations.
The rest of the kit was dedicated to an assortment of charging devices: portable, wall, and USB, to compensate for the tiny pen's notoriously low battery capacity. One portable charger conspicuously calls to mind the shape, size, and feel of a pack of cigarettes: a constant reminder of the habit most vapers are trying to escape. This is the future of vaping.Multiple chargers. Image: Derek Mead/Motherboard
Blu is owned by Imperial Tobacco, the company that makes Winston cigarettes, among others. It's not a new brand, and the kit the company sent me isn't even a brand new model. Yet so much of how the device is designed perfectly aligns with the vision the FDA built in its regulations.
Completely enclosed, single-brand systems like this might be what a lot of the general public pictures when we talk about e-cigarettes, but it's a far cry from what vaping looks like to a huge portion of the community. This is what the FDA wants vaping to look like, and if the regulations remain as they stand, it's what a big part of the industry will conform to.
Under the new regulations, each individual vaping product (from e-liquid flavors to pens to individual parts sold to build custom mods) must be registered with the FDA through a pricy application process. The FDA says this process would cost from $285,000 to $2.6 million, though some regulatory analysts estimate these applications could cost up to $10 million per product, a price tag out of reach for many small vaping businesses. But for blu, with its relatively short list of products and deep pockets, it's a fairly simple procedure.
Beyond that, companies may also need redesign products to fit the strict new FDA requirements. It's likely why Big Tobacco-owned brands like blu have avoided plunging into more complicated, customizable designs and giving users the option to refill with different e-liquids. The fact is that, under the new regulations, it will be hard for companies to survive
making customizable, complex units that allow users to fill the device with their favorite juice. Fully integrated, closed systems like blu will have the best chances of clearing the FDA's hurdles. Considering the vaping community's general distaste for cig-a-likes—and particularly brands owned by cigarette companies—this future will probably not be well received.