NATO Conference Ends 15-Year Run

June 26, 2016



By Norm Bour

“All things must pass” is a popular cliché as well as a song title, and after 15 years the annual trade conference known as NATO is calling it quits.

The National Association of Tobacco Outlets was founded in 2001 and initially included tobacco companies of all shapes and sizes. Over the years they added hookah and most recently, vape. Don Bores, the original founder of NATO said in a 2014 interview on VAPE radio, “They thought I was crazy when I took an e-cigarette out of my shirt pocket, took a puff and put in back in my pocket.” This was in 2008 and as recently as 2015 vape companies represented as much as one third of their vendors.

Frank Armstrong is the current NATO president, and has been a board member since 2003. He is the owner of Blue Ridge Tobacco, a chain of eight tobacco stores in North Carolina and Virginia. They have been ahead of their fellow smoke shop competitors and have been carrying cigalikes and vaping supplies for several years.

The association has 51,000 members, a powerful force, and consists of tobacco outlets, convenience stores, wholesalers and manufacturers.

This recent show was significantly smaller than in years’ past with just over one hundred vendors and several hundred attendees. As the speed of communication has increased, many business owners feel less need to learn from live events since they get information much quicker from other sources.

There is no question about it: the competition for attendees at tobacco shows is just as challenging as for vape shows. Since 2013 when I started VapeMentors, I have attended dozens of shows and each year the numbers increase, which results in smaller attendance for everyone.

When asked why they are ending the 15 year run of live events, Armstrong stated, “When we look towards the future, which could be just a handful or years to many times that, we have to acknowledge that one of our primary missions is to protect our members- and not orchestrate conventions. Threats come from many places including new deeming regulations, but more from state and local issues which have increased over the years.”

He confessing that NATO reached a major decision and determined that their time and resources were best spent on those state and local regulatory issues. “That will help us do best for our industry,” he concluded.

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The Vaping Presence at NATO

Of the 105 vendors, just a handful were vaping companies, mostly liquid sellers, as is common. There were a few familiar names, but the biggest was Lost Art, here for their first-and last show.

In just two years they have become a significant presence and when we asked cofounder Ryan Thomas why they exhibited he responded: “We decided to attend NATO because it was something different, and a possibly untapped market.” Overall they were pleased with the level of interest though most that visited their booth were not familiar with their company.

They also took advantage of one of the most unique sponsorship offerings I have ever seen: a phone charging station with Lost Art logos plastered on every side.

Judah Arama was on the floor representing Helium brand e-liquids. The Florida-based company has been in liquids since 2008 and their parent company, VPR Brands, is one of the few publicly traded vape industries.

They initially manufactured for others but launched the Helium brand with a new twist. In an effort to keep consistent texture and flavor they decided to offer coolers to their retail sites which keeps their bottles at 20 degrees below room temperature.

“The intent is to keep the liquid between 70 and 75 degrees,” said Arama, “and we found this kept the flavors more consistent.” He specifically said that the end purchaser is not required to chill their liquids since that time lapse would be insignificant.

This does bring to light an issue for many manufacturers since it can take many months to consume a finished product that was made up to one year earlier.

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The Importance of Education

NATO will be missed since they held a unique educational place in the world of conventions. This event covered just 15 hours over two days, but six of those hours were dedicated to educational programs and the balance for exhibitor hours.

This year they brought in Bonnie Herzog, Managing Director Beverage, Tobacco & Convenience Store Research, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, as well as Don Burke, Senior Vice President, Management Science Associates, Inc. (MSA), one of the market leaders in tracking c-stores and product sale.

Some data they shared included:
• Last year, 2015, was a banner year for the sale of analog cigarettes. WTF??
• Vapors, tanks and mods (VTM), plus e-cigs, are in 27 percent of all convenience stores.
• The potential market and upside for vape products is huge, as estimates show that the worldwide tobacco market is a $900 billion business, yet vape is just one percent. But in the US, vape is estimated to impact 52 percent of the tobacco market. Yes, that is why overseas manufacturers are seeking our US dollars.
• The top liquid flavor category is fruits with a 96 percent approval rate, followed by deserts at 86 percent. Tobacco and menthol continue to drop in popularity at 36 and 34 percent respectively.
• The ages of vape consumers was higher than they expected with ages 31 to 40 being the “sweet spot” followed by Gen Y’s close behind.
• Most vapers start because they want to get rid of tobacco addiction and less than 10 percent vape just for fun.

The closing speaker was the man everyone loves to hear, but few believe: Mitch Zeller, Director of FDA Center for Tobacco Products. He told the audience that the final deeming regulations “would be released soon,” and assured everyone that they listened to the feedback and concerns from “tens of thousands that offered their thoughts and opinions.” By the time you read this his words of solace may be real or possibly not.

NATO will be missed.

- Norm Bour

Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors and creator of the VAPE U online programs. They offer services & resources for anyone in the vape space, including vape shops, online stores and e-liquid brands. He’s also the host of Vape Radio, the largest vaping radio show in the world with more than 1.2 M downloads. Norm interviews the masters of vape and thought leaders in the vape space. Contact him at


New Webinar: Timing and Tips for Submitting Premarket Review Applications for Newly Deemed Products

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 12.50.48 PMThe FDA has released “Timing and Tips – Newly Deemed Tobacco Product Applications,” the latest in its series of webinars to help industry understand a recently finalized rule extending FDA’s authority to all tobacco products.

This new webinar outlines when manufacturers should submit applications for the premarket review of their products and the compliance periods for each premarket pathway. It also provides a list of helpful reminders for submitting product review applications.

The new “deeming” rule extends FDA’s authority to products such as e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco, and pipe tobacco, among others. The compliance webinars are designed to help regulated tobacco retailers, importers, and manufacturers understand the steps they must take to comply with the rule. Check out the full series on the FDA Tobacco Compliance Webinar webpage.

To view the webinar, click here.

San Diego Event Gets It Right

June 25, 2016



By Norm Bour

The SoCal Vape Convention rolled out their second edition in March, 2016, and proved that it is possible to produce a small show, have it be engaging, and provide value to the attendees.

Led by Local Vape E-Cig Supplies as the organizer, and sponsored by Ruthless and a host of others, the event was held at the Town & Country Resort and Convention Center in Mission Valley, just outside San Diego, CA. Though events are usually held at a stand-alone convention center this choice is a good one as the Town & Country offers 32 acres of rooms, convention facilities, and restaurants.

This event, like many, opened on B2B Friday with many vendors slow to arrive and set up. The floor was open until 8:00 p.m., which is later than most, but the timing worked out. The following two days of B2C was notably more crowded, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Chantix side effects started a positive ripple

Laura McCollum has been with Local Vapes since late 2015, and runs their San Diego operations. Prior to joining Local Vapes she worked for Orbit Vape, and as the marketing director kept asking herself: “How can I put Orbit on the map?” She came up with the idea of an event since San Diego had none of their own, yet hundreds of shops and businesses were everywhere. After developing and submitting a solid business plan, management went all in and the first SoCal Vape Convention took place in spring, 2015.

Orbit teamed with “The Switch SD Vape Shop” since The Switch sold mostly authentic hardware and Orbit mainly offered clones.

In year one they had 84 vendors with about 5000 attendees, and proudly donated half the net proceeds to SFATA, the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association.

This year they sold about 110 spots and expected more than 5000 attendees.

McCollum’s entrée into vaping is a significant lesson since she was a smoker for 30 years and was unsuccessful in her efforts to quit. When she realized that Chantix (a prescription medication used to treat nicotine addiction) was “zoning her out” to the point of risking her children’s health, she discovered vaping.

Ironically she was a former nurse. And she also had a small motorcycle track behind her San Diego home. One day McCollum’s mother found her six-year old grandson riding his motorcycle out back without a helmet, and that’s the day that Laura stopped her Chantix dosage.

When asked why they chose Town & Country she replied: “We like this place for two reasons. One is because our larger San Diego Convention Center is not vape-friendly and never showed us much love and the other is because we like the on-site rooms and group packages.”

What it takes to be Different

Exhibitor Wes Brown with VOAK, which stands for “Vape of a Kind,” calls himself “The Visionary” of the company rather than “founder.” His self-proclaimed title may be appropriate since his shop is one of the few combinations of vape and hookah anywhere.

Their San Jose, CA lounge is called “The Abyss” since “you will find yourself in there for a long time,” as Brown told us. Clever and original messaging, for sure.

Hookah Lounges, like many businesses, are changing with the times as this shop uses electric hookah heads which adjust from 3.2 to 6.0 volts and offers a 8 ml tank which can vape any liquid available. It acts similar to a hand held unit but with individual tubes which can accommodate one or several persons.

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The VOAK liquid line comes in three flavors and are named after the birth years of Brown, his mother and his wife. This is all part of their “personal story,” which helps create solid relationships with customers.

They offer some of the classiest packaging I have ever seen and with Brown and his team decked out in suit jackets, they stood apart from the mostly t-shirt clad crowd.

“You don’t need to drive a Bentley to have a classy product,” Brown claims, “and we specifically do not call ourselves ‘premium,’ which is a lightning rod for litigation. We say that we sell ‘the finer things in life.’”

They sell a 50ML bottle, an unusual size, along with a 12ML refilling container for $35.

Fighting Warner Bros Film Studio- and winning!

Beetle Juice Vapors owner and vendor Abdel Aboabdo got a cease and desist from Warner Bros. studio in 2014 and was asked to stop using their trademarked “Beetlejuice” name for his e-liquid product.

The 1988 dark comedy starred Michael Keaton in the title role, along with Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara, and Winona Ryder, and was directed by Tim Burton. The movie grossed $73 million and became fodder for a new black and white stripped Halloween costume.

“They had Beetlejuice trademarked for clothing, movies and film, but not for e-liquids,” and that was the argument that won his case he told us.

When asked if he was “scared shitless” by the suit he replied “of course,” but he is not the only person sued for copy write issues in the vape space. Aboabdo consulted friends and attorneys but responded “pro per,” which means he acted on his own without an attorney.

His initial logo design used the distinctive Beetlejuice font, which he was asked to change, and Aboabdo explained that “he cannot create any characters or represent anything related to the movie.” David beats Goliath again.

The San Diego show vendor list included a surprisingly high number of hardware manufacturers and wholesalers, which was a pleasant surprise since most show sponsors are liquid companies.

Let’s hope that year three offers more of the same.

Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors, which offers online educational programs, services & resources for anyone in the vape space, including vape shops, online stores and e-liquid brands. He’s also the host of Vape Radio, the largest vaping radio show in the world with more than 1.2 M downloads. Norm interviews the masters of vape and thought leaders in the vape space. Contact him at

VAPE U III: Vape Shop Master Summit Continues Through Sunday

Vape-Shop-Master-Summit-Logo-FinalFor vape shops concerned about the future of the industry, VapeMentors is offering more than 20 hours of free education to help you thrive and grow.

VAPE U III: Vape Shop Master Summit, started yesterday, June 23, and continues through Sunday, June 26. More than 24 vape space thought leaders are sharing their insights and discussing:

  • marketing and advertising
  • retail sales trends and GETTING more sales
  • financial management
  • customer service and retention
  • e-liquids
  • regulations
  • hiring and firing employees

This program is free until June 28 and available at You can listen to the six hours of class that were offered Thursday, too!

Norm Bour, a senior writer at VAPE, is recognized as one of the top vape consultants and has worked with more than 40 vape businesses since 2013. He speaks internationally and hosts the top rated VAPE radio as well as authoring Vapreneur.

Here is what one of yesterday’s students shared:

“What a fantastic program you guys have put together! I went ahead and purchased access to the material as each and every one of my employees with greatly benefit by learning the important steps to running a successful business.

My thoughts:

- The No. 1 program you don’t want your competitors seeing!

- If your competitor has it and you don’t, the end is near …

Steve Kane, GM—Vast Vapor

VapeXpo 2016 Heading to Toledo, Ohio

13240526_10154074173281271_2886338660995563857_nVapeXpo 2016 is heading to the SeaGate Convention Center in Toledo, Ohio, Aug. 26 and 27. The entry fee is $1 for sampling.

With the FDA deeming regulations and all the letter writing we are doing now, the question is: Will there still be a vape event? The answer is yes! VapeXpo 2016 is touted to be bigger than last year in Ann Arbor, particularly since the space will be 75,000 square feet of vendors, fun times, vape hosts, and of course, the biggest reason—advocacy.

As with previous VapeXpo’s there will be an advocacy auction. This year’s recipients will be the AVA. There is also a $1 admission fee to cover the cost of sampling. I.D. is required for this 18+ event. Some of the vendors who have already said yes include: Vape Escape, Tarot Labs, BAMF Juice and more.

If you are a vendor who is interested in donating auction items and participating in the event, contact Marcy Coyne and the crew at

The Park Inn near the convention center is offering a room discount with rooms costing only $99 when you mention VapeXpo when you call. Their number is (419) 241-3000.

To keep updated on the event as details come through, please go to the VapeXpo group page:

To get more information on other vendors, rules, etc, please go to

Motown Welcomes VPX to the Motor City

June 24, 2016



By Norm Bour

Detroit during the first week of March would normally not be a “go to” destination in winter, yet the crowds did throng into the Cobo Auditorium in downtown Detroit to attend the first VPX vaping event in that city. Along with this event they hosted the first “ECC Vaping Academy,” educational program, which was sponsored by Electronic Cigarette Convention (ECC) and VPX.

ECC is a giant and leader in the vaping event space and the founders of the still largest vape event, ECC Southern California, which will be held this year in November in Pomona, CA. Founder Steve Mack and his board launched the first ECC in 2013 and it has continued to grow from there and has expanded to other cities.

“We use the ECC brand only in Southern California, but
we have launched a series of events in smaller regions
using the VPX brand. We are officially called ‘VPX,
by ECC,’” Mack shared. VPX was originally a shortened
name for the ‘Vapors Exhibit’, per Mack, with ECC
being the parent company.

In 2014 they held their first event outside California, in Niagara Falls, NY. “Why there?,” I asked and Mack responded, “We have a huge demand from the Canadian vape market so we’re trying to accommodate them and still engage our American crowd.” That was one of the motivators behind this recent Detroit show since Detroit is just one bridge away from Canada and just hours from Toronto.

As the event space evolves we are seeing more regionally focused events. These are designed to bring in vendors and attendees from localized areas within a 500 mile radius. The VPX shows in New Orleans, Las Vegas, and now Detroit, do that. Mack confirmed that VPX is not designed to be a “mega event like ECC in Southern California” but is a smaller version that offers ECC high standards.

Education is Important to the Industry

Like many events today, the promoters attempt to engage the B2B crowd during the first and second days, followed by the consumer crowd. The Detroit show made a serious effort to put “butts in seats” by offering a variety of speakers on a large and well- designed stage.

Mack and his crew are serious about education and on opening day they offered a two-hour educational platform known as ECC Vaping Academy. With eight speakers having just 15 minutes to speak, the quickly moving series offered talks on improving cash flow, protecting yourself through insurance, ways to maximize your mailing list, and the

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2016 Vape Industry Survival Guide, offered by this author. One entire row on the show floor was dominated by one major company and 14 of their offshoot brands.

Independent Vapor Company, from Madison Heights, MI, started in May, 2014 and became an immediate success. They were approached by others to partner up and have now done so with several brands, including their most popular line, Nillionaire, which accounts for up to 30% of their cumulative sales according to Jessica Hill, a mixologist at Independent. All of the flavors were created by co-owners Ryan Wagner and Jerret Kirouac and 11 of the flavors are all made in house.

Independent is a great example of an e-liquid company that has dominated a state and region rather than trying to rule the entire nation.

This show was not the largest or most attended of the many shows I have been to, but the manageable size allowed lots of time for everyone to talk business and to make the weekend effective.

When asked about other markets that VPX is
considering, Mack shared, “We’re looking at the
Virginia market, possibly Richmond. One of the
biggest restrictions is finding a venue that allows
us to vape inside.” The next VPX event will be held in
Las Vegas in May, 2016 and after that the ECC crew will
be taking a break until the biggie in November.

Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors, which offers online educational programs, services & resources for anyone in the vape space, including vape shops, online stores and e-liquid brands. He’s also the host of Vape Radio, the largest vaping radio show in the world with more than 1.2 M downloads. Norm interviews the masters of vape and thought leaders in the vape space. Contact him at

Vape Vixen Sketches: Seasoned Artist And Vape Advocate

June 23, 2016



By Chris Mellides – Photos taken by Neojungle – Sketches created by Yamilalee “Sketches” Tomas

At a very young age it became apparent to those around her that Yamilalee “Sketches” Tomas was destined to be an artist.

Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the 34-year-old recalls picturesque buildings towering over her with vibrant street art sprawled across the brick and concrete that served as her inspiration when she was a child.

At home and in the company of her family, a young Tomas was fascinated with the Saturday morning cartoons, particularly the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She would often try to capture the likeness of those goofy and often offbeat characters from her favorite shows and recreate them on sheets of paper.

“When I was young I think what inspired me was that I wanted to mimic all of the cartoons that I saw on TV,” Tomas said. “I didn’t always have the opportunity to get them as toys, so I wanted to make them on my own.”

That often meant that she had to improvise and fuel her creative spirit with whatever household materials were available to her.

“If I was watching My Little Pony or something I would draw, and then if I had some Play-Doh I would create the eyes or the tail or whatever, and that was just my way of creating it for myself at home,” Tomas said.

When she was just four years old, Tomas’ mother entered her in a drawing competition organized by the Educational Alliance Head Start program, which she won.

Realizing her budding talent, Tomas’s mother actively sought to enroll her daughter in art classes and would submit her illustrations to art competitions.

As she got older, Tomas’s teachers noticed her artistic ability and wanted her to use her talent to become more involved in school.

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“In high school, I had wonderful teachers who also noticed that I had a passion for art,” Tomas said. “They would put me to draw school banners, things for events like Black History Month, Valentine’s Day and anything that was going on in the school.

“They would always have me participate and make some type of flyer, poster or whatever it was that they needed.”

Taking her passion to new heights, Tomas enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in New York City where she studied cartooning and illustration before graduating in 2010.

She says that studying there enhanced her skills as an artist and gave her a better understanding of the fundamentals of illustrating while helping to further her appreciation for traditional art.

“I’ve always been completely on the side of traditional art, so I use pencils and ink pens,” she said. “I do dabble a little with water color and I’ve used acrylic as well, but I’m definitely dedicated to the pencil.”

During and after college, Tomas befriended a few well known street artists who would travel the world showcasing their artwork. They proved to be instrumental in lending her a hand with researching how to get her work out to the public, and would often help with artist calls and gallery events, according to Tomas.

“I crossed my fingers and sent in my submissions and I got called a lot of times,” Tomas said. “I’ve been included in a gallery out here where I live in Chelsea, and I’ve sent in my submissions for galleries out in Brooklyn where I’ve been showcased. It’s been a good ride.”

Between five and six years ago, Tomas created a character that appears in several examples of her work called Sketches, whose name she adopted for herself. Tomas says she’s always been shy, and she’s able to break through that shyness with an illustrated character that borrows traits from herself.

“It was a way of communicating through my artwork by showing this little character who wants to be seen, wants to make friends, and wants to do things, but is always too shy to,” Tomas said. “She always looks like the shy, odd one, but she just always wants to be involved somehow, so that was a way I used different pieces of myself in my artwork. I kind of live through her.”

In addition to working as an illustrator, Tomas is also an employee at Urban Vape, a premier vape shop located in Bronx, New York.

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Tomas considers herself to be a “passionate vaper” and credits vaping for helping her kick her cigarette smoking habit.

Long before she made the switch to vaping, Tomas began smoking when she was 14 years old and continued to smoke on and off well into adulthood.

“When I became an adult and was old enough to buy a pack myself I was smoking about a pack every two days,” Tomas said.

Four years ago one of her friends passed away and Tomas’s cigarette consumption increased to almost two packs a day.

After developing bronchitis several times, and dealing with the ill affects smoking had on her asthma, she knew she had to stop smoking and began using vapor products. A dual user for three years, Tomas had her last cigarette two years ago.

It wasn’t long before Tomas began incorporating her love of vaping into her artwork, with illustrations depicting personified vape hardware drawn in a style that incorporates New School tattoo elements.

Tomas then began uploading her illustrations to Instagram, and the flood of support from her followers was overwhelming.

“It was completely surreal, and I would have never thought at all that it would take off the way it did; it’s an amazing feeling,” Tomas said. “It just feels great that I can actually do something I love so much, and that people find it amazing and actually want to own pieces by me.”

“It’s the most amazing feeling and it’s just so hard to describe.”

With a growing number of followers on social media, Tomas has been receiving private messages, phone calls and e-mails requesting commissioned artwork daily, and says that she receives anywhere from 20-30 requests per week.

A common theme with the vape characters in her art is showing that they have a purpose and that raising awareness is ultimately what she hopes to provide for the community in the characters she creates.

“I kind of wanted the vapes to look like they were out for a mission,” Tomas said. “There are only so many things you can do in this community to help people understand that vaping is something that works, that it is lifesaving.”

She added, “I wanted to create something to ease the path towards making people understand that vaping does save lives; it’s had a good response so far and I’m happy with it.”

As for what the future has in store for the vape industry, Tomas remains wholly optimistic and views the vapers as being part of a larger family that she believes will continue to grow as the industry evolves.

“I want people to understand what [vaping] really is and I want them to understand that it’s not about the money, and it’s not about who has the better sponsorship or who has the cooler device,” Tomas said.

“We’re all here to love each other, to save lives and to tell cancer, ‘You are not welcome here.’ ”

Find Sketches Online
Instagram: @Sketches81

*Photos marked: Sketches_1 and Sketches_2 taken by Neojungle.
*All other photos depict artwork created by Yamilalee “Sketches” Tomas

Food and Drug Law Institute to Present One-Day Course

urlThe program will prepare attendees for the requirements going into effect on August 8, 2016 and the long-term industry changes affecting sales, registration, product listing, reporting, and product labeling.

The course features a faculty of leading attorneys, industry counsel, and former government employees who will provide an in-depth overview of FDA’s new approach to regulating vaping products.

Agenda Highlights

      • FDA Center for Tobacco Products: Regulatory Scheme
      • Registration and Listing Compliance
      • Advertising and Promotion Requirements
      • Premarket Tobacco Application Process
      • The Public Health Standard
      • Prop 65 and State Regulatory Issues
    • International Regulations


Who Should Attend

  • Regulatory and legal professionals in domestic and international vapor companies
  • Attorneys representing vapor companies and manufacturers of vapor products
  • Consultants
  • Government regulators
  • Public health officials

CLE Credits

Qualifies for CLE credits. For more information, please contact us.

Audience: Tobacco

Audience Level: Introductory

To register, visit


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