Many people, including yours truly, have been predicting for months that the dawn of serious federal regulations on vaping would be a death knell for many companies. On Monday, the first casualty emerged.
8BitVape is an e-liquid manufacturer based in the United Kingdom, but it's unique in that it allows customers to order completely customized juices. Vapers choose from five different bottle sizes, seven different nicotine strengths, and can mix and match any of the company's 108 flavors. Customers can also share their creations with the site's online community, and if others order it, the creator gets discounts on future offers. It's sort of a bridge between buying premixed juices and making your own. Fancy a zero nicotine, pineapple-peppermint-champagne blend for some reason? You can have it.
But not for much longer. As of Friday, 8Bit will stop its custom production and slowly start to ease out of business altogether, the owners announced Monday. (Because the vaping industry is huge and full of companies large and small, it's possible other companies have already closed, but 8Bit is certainly the first high profile company to shutter.)
8Bit says this decision is in direct response to the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), regulations under the European Union that were announced in 2014 and which come into effect at the end of this week. Producers of e-cigarettes and e-liquids have from May 20 until November 20, 2016 to submit an application for each product they produce and to make sure their products meet the new standards (juice can't be sold in containers larger than 10 milliliters, for example). For a company like 8Bit, where new flavors are being created every day, this process was simply not feasible.
"We started with the intention of being different and I suppose that hasn't helped now the regulations are in place," Tom Johnson, one of the co-founder of 8Bit, told me via e-mail. "I think we're certainly one of the first [to close] as the laws that come in right now hit us more directly than others. Other shops are mainly limited to registering new products and things like that, but it isn't financially viable for us to do that for every order we take."
Come November, the laws get even more strict: shops can still sell off old stock of products that don't meet TPD requirements, but only if they were made prior to November 20. By this time next year, any non-TPD compliant products will be stripped from shelves.
Johnson told me 8Bit isn't planning to completely go off the grid. For now, the company is quickly putting together a small stock of the most popular flavors on the site, which it can legally still sell until November, though Johnson said 8Bit will likely stop all sales by the end of the summer. But the online community will remain, and 8Bit has decided to publish all of its recipes so customers can make their favorite flavors at home going forward.
"It is our hope that more people will move to DIY mixing and keep themselves safe and away from cigarettes and we can't think of any better way to promote that than to give away our database along with guides and tools to help," Johnson told me, though he noted that it may be difficult for DIY vapers to buy nicotine after the rules fully come into effect in November.
Johnson said he wasn't familiar with the details of the US Food and Drug Administration's regulations, which are actually stricter than the EU requirements. But he predicted that many more companies will meet the same fate at 8Bit on both sides of the pond before everything is over.
"I imagine we'll see many of the other great companies sadly shut their doors," Johnson said.