Taking a Look at The Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association
October 22, 2013
Taking a Look at The Smoke Free Alternatives
By Cynthia Cabrera, SFATA Executive Director
The e-cig industry is a disruptor, turning the tobacco industry on its head,
empowering consumers and creating a
new multi-billion dollar industry. But, in the
long run who will be able to reap the windfall brought on by this nascent industry?
The World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and the Surgeon
General have for many years agreed that
tobacco use is harmful, and in particular, that
smoking tobacco cigarettes is very harmful in various ways. Despite the well-known dangers
of cigarette smoking and the public policy arguments in favor of reducing tobacco consumption such as lower health care costs, efforts to reduce tobacco consumption have not been as effective as one would expect over the past several decades. Reducing tobacco use is a significant benefit that has the potential to change our society for the better and an objective that the FDA and anti-smoking groups across the globe have been trying to achieve for decades.
I believe a major problem right now is that FDA and anti smoking groups seem to view vapers and the act of vaping as indistinguishable from smokers and smoking when the two are in reality very different things. Given the stigma smoking has earned, and the harm it causes, there is a strong push by FDA, various Attorney Generals, and legislators at the federal, state and local levels. These groups and individuals confuse smoking with vaping and attempt to regulate vaporizers in the exact same manner as cigarettes. This doesn’t make sense, and would be a huge mistake on many levels as it would unfairly stifle the industry, deny millions of adults an alternative to tobacco and stifle one of the most prolific segments of our economy. That’s bad news for an industry that’s largely comprised of small companies and entrepreneurially-minded individuals
The Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA) exists in part to help educate smaller and mid-sized companies as to what we consider to be acceptable advertising, manufacturing and marketing protocols and to serve as a powerful voice for them in our nation’s capital as well as in their own backyards where many of them are being unfairly treated as though they were tobacco companies.
At SFATA we are constantly engaging and educating regulatory officials and legislators at the federal, state and local level on behalf of our members. Our membership grows each month as more companies look to collaborate to achieve common goals and to obtain guidance and support as the industry expands and become more complicated.
To date, SFATA is the largest e-cig trade association and is comprised of sophisticated companies in the industry who are looking to work together to help protect common interests. Business owners and consumers of e-cigs and e-cig accessories can help in a variety of ways:
Become a member of SFATA. While different companies may not always agree on every initiative, as some affect others differently in the marketplace, its important to have an industry that speaks with a unified voice on the issues that everyone agrees are most important. SFATA is committed to engaging with government agencies and elected officials in an effective manner—to communicate industry messages that smaller and mid-size businesses would not normally able to convey. We employ FDA experts, as well as attorneys and staff who specialize in the areas that affect our industry and are able to be of the most help as they have a profound understanding of the regulatory, legal and business issues that are unique to the vaping community.
The way consumers and business owners talk about vaping needs to be different.
As a business owner, your message and your right to communicate it, is different than that of a consumer and that’s an important distinction. A consumer can talk about his or her vaping experience with impunity and in ways businesses cannot.
A consumer can advocate about what they see as any benefit vaporizers provide them with. Perhaps the availability of flavors keeps that consumer interested in using his or her personal vaporizing device rather than tobacco cigarettes? Perhaps he or she has cut down use of tobacco cigarettes and have saved money? Perhaps he or she feels better having switched to vaping from smoking. There are many compelling, important and amazing stories that vapers share about how vaping has changed their lives for the better. It’s important that consumers and consumer advocacy groups make those statements so that elected officials, government agencies and others unfamiliar with vaping understand consumers’ point of view.
Business owners have a responsibility to sell and advertise products as intended and governed by law. While it is fine for consumers to share their personal stories, business should never make or endorse health or smoking cessation claims. Doing so could, arguably, subject such a business to being regulated by the FDA as a tobacco product under the current state of the law.
Instead, craft your message as a business owner and focus on the economic impact this product has given you. Focus on the jobs you’ve created, the taxes you pay, the properties you rent and how you’ve assisted your community financially. Attend meetings and stay in tune with what is happening in your community. Visit the SFATA website to get more information about issues in your state. Rally your customers to attend meetings as well; have them share their stories. It’s important to engage with legislators and be part of the process as they are responsible for making decisions that affect your community and they need to hear from you.
Whatever the case is, consumer or business, advocating for an industry and the right to use new technology requires a lot of work. Consumer and businesses that engage and communicate with lawmakers have the ability to effectuate positive change. Legislators care about and listen to their constituents. Our website has tools to contact elected officials and information business owners can utilize for themselves and relay to their elected officials and communities in support of the industry.
Vape Bash 5 at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois saw a solid turnout with a full line of vendors. Such vendors included Apocalypse Juice, Good Life Vapor, Mr. E Liquids, Elixerz, Demonic, and many more.
Unfortunately, some vendors (and a few vape hosts) had to pull out because of scheduling conflicts and other obligations. While they were missed, for the people who were there friendships were renewed, new friends met, and fun was still to be had. The fantastic weather also added to the atmosphere.
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Thursday night was the party night. The event room was open for greetings, salutations, and nice to meet you’s. It also included a debut from a T-Rex, which also made a few more cameos throughout the event. The first night was also a great time to get the bearings of the hotel/resort, as well as to get settled in for the weekend.
Opening day Friday got off to a slow start. Considering that most people had to work during the day, when evening came, so did the people. Along with the vendors just mentioned, there were also a few “vape famous” people in attendance as well. This included You Tubers Grimm Green and RubyRoo hanging out by the Namber Juice booth where they were giving away stickers and a GrimmGreen beer glass. Jeannie K and the crew from Inside Vaping had their table. Nitrobex from Mod Envy was there with his girlfriend greeting everyone and making videos.
VapeTV Live was there broadcasting coverage. A few hosts went on camera to chat about the event, what they bought, and help their audience feel like they were part of the atmosphere. This has been a tradition of theirs since the beginning as well as the group picture that was taken towards the end of the event.
On Saturday, the crowds became bigger and there were deals that had juice, swag, and equipment flying off the shelves. Demonic Vapor handed out post cards with deals and giveaways as well as a free vape towels that they were tossing into the crowd. Some vendors even had deals on their whole line that they wanted to get rid of before the end of the event.
CASAA sponsored an activism awareness workshop in one of the skyboxes overlooking the event floor on Saturday afternoon. According to those in attendance,
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the small cozy room was overflowing with people passionate about activism and vendors who were there got their marching orders.
Saturday night was the costume contest. There were only 7 contestants. Flitz, from VapeTV Live was the emcee and encouraged the crowds to cheer for their favorite costume. The winner was Harley Quinn. Those who came in 2nd to 5th place included the Stimaches, Vaperaham Lincoln, and Burlesque Baby. Each contestant that won was awarded some donated juice, a mod, and other swag.
On both nights after the event, the infamous fire pit was the place to hang out and party. Even though the weather was a bit cold at night, it was still a place to decompress and feel close with fellow vapers. Saturday night had vapers sharing the fire pit with women who were there for a Mommy Meet Convention and a wedding party. Everyone was able to get along and ask questions about what vaping was. The conversations were respectful and if there was a miseducated statement made, they were educated on the spot, and very respectfully.
As for the organizers, Windy City Vapers Club President Scott Riddle, as well as Mary and Chris Tobin (Danger Girl and Sgt. Taz on VapeTV Live), said they were pleased with the event. Tables were donated to CASAA and Vape-a-Vet. After balancing and crunching some numbers, both Vape-a-vet and CASAA brought in $688.50 each.
This was the second time that Vape Bash was held at Pheasant Run Resort. Apart from having an issue with alcohol in the event space and other areas of the resort, overall, the service and the friendliness of the staff was pretty good. There were some places, such as the lounge area where one would expect vaping complaints, but there weren’t. The rooms were the only place where vaping was allowed and if vaping happened, care needed to be taken. It was a lot easier on the ground floor at balcony level where a door could be opened.
If you are a first-timer to this an event, expect to have your mind blown. It’s not like a trade show where you have to pay a fee to get in. It’s free. You also will encounter some famous and familiar vape faces that you might’ve chatted with online and now get to see in person.
So, with the FDA regulations out now, the question is, will there be another Vape Bash next year? Chris and Mary say “We are optimistic and hope to continue this tradition. Hopefully in the next 8-10 months some changes will happen and we can announce VapeBash 6.”
One of the most common descriptions of Vape Shop Events is that it’s like “Speed Dating for vape professionals.” With just 20 minutes to wine and dine your customers, everyone brings their “A Game.”
“This is not the place to come party,” said one of the attendees, “and if you focus on what is in front of you, the time will be well spent.”
Joshua Krane from Craft Vapery put it succinctly as I sat in on of his meetings.
“We can do this the hard way or the easy way,” he offered to the e-liquid seller in front of him. “The hard way is that you do your song and dance and waste ten minutes and I tell you I want to buy. Or we can cut the crap and work out a price that we both like and I walk out with a 2500 bottle order.” They did and he did…
Krane and Craft Vapery had the best of both worlds at this unique event. He came as a seller, offering their own products, and he was also there as a buyer, seeking out great flavors and deals for his subscription services.
How-and Why- it all Works
Vape Shop Events is not a new concept, but it is a new offering in this still-young vape space.
“We’ve been doing these type events for over 12 years now,” offered Mike Sessoms, the founder of VSE. “We do similar programs in the tobacco, promotions and pet shop space.”
With this proven concept, 27 sellers/ manufacturers buy a space (room) at the host resort. They meet with 20 buyers who are hand chosen and invited to participate. In a round-robin whirlwind over one and a half days, every seller meets with every borrower for 20 minutes. Then the timer goes off, the doors open and a new prospect enters the room.
The sellers pay to attend and one fee covers 100 percent of their expenses, including airfare, lodging and food. The buyers get a better deal; they are invited in for free and likewise have all expenses paid. This process weeds out a lot of time wasters on both sides of the transaction.
Park City, UT, one of the most beautiful ski resorts in the country, was just four miles away, but few attendees ever ventured into town until the event concluded. The beautiful Westgate Resort is at the base of the ski lifts, though ski season had ended just weeks earlier. Over the course of two days it did snow, which made for a dramatic day.
Sessoms says that this is his favorite host resort of all.
When I jokingly mentioned to him that the resort felt a bit like a prison he responded, “That’s intentional!”
“All kidding aside, the goal is to immerse all the attendees in the business at hand and discourage them from leaving the premises.” That was not a problem as the resort offered a spa, indoor/ outdoor pool, lots of walking paths and a restaurant that was voted “Best Steakhouse in Utah.”
What the Attendees Say
Jessica Johns from Virgin Vapor is not a virgin at these shows, as this was her third time. With her associate Asia, they both raved about the show staff and the reasons they attend.
“These guys are so organized and professional and they always make us feel so welcome. On top of that, the ability to spend 20 minutes at a time with face to face buyers is invaluable and generates business.”
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Gary Wilder from Lizard Juice attended for the first time and was especially impressed with the professional intentions of the buyers they met with.
“These guys are not here to play; they are here to do business. And with no distractions from other conversations, loud music or passersby, that’s what we did. Just in our first day we signed on two new accounts and took away orders.”
They already signed up for the next show in La Jolla in July.
Oren Cohen, the owner and chief chef of The Vaping Kitchen, was new to this event, but remembered participating at one of the first events put on by the same promoters 12 years ago.
“I was in another industry and recall how great the process was even then,” he said.
I asked if he had any advice for those looking to attend a future event.
“Be clear with your mission and intentions. If you are a seller be sure you have a good product and if you are a buyer, be focused on exactly what you are looking for.”
Dylan Thompson from Vaporessence attended the last show in January and learned some lessons, which he shared.
“Don’t bring too much product,” he offered, “and you need not set up a fancy display! The people we met with don’t care about fluff, just quality products. In most cases they know what they are looking for and you either have it or you don’t.” Instead of bringing his entire line, he only brought his top four.
Some other comments from the attendees:
“There’s no lack of good product out there, but there’s a huge lack of good companies to work with,” said an attendee. In less than 30 minutes we get to know each other and we both walk away as friends and future associates.”
“Study the buyer’s profile and research them as best you can. The more you know about them, the more likely they’ll buy from you,” said Cory Parravano from The Vapor Spot. He attended the last show as a buyer, but returned this time as a seller.
“When you sit down with someone over dinner you really get to know them,” Taylor Craig from Big Bang E-cigs confided. “You can’t even come close to that level of intimacy at any other type of event.” He was here for the second time and plans to return.
Chris and Margaux Jimenez from BankCard USA was not a typical vendor, but they have carved out a prominent and significant space in the merchant services field. They have also been part of Vape Shop Events since the beginning, and participate in other industry shows that the VSE team conducts.
“Merchant Services is incredibly complex, so we come here to offer guidance and education aside from just great pricing,” Jimenez shared.
He suggested anyone interested in participating to “Get in while you can. With just 27 sellers and 20 buyers there is a waiting list already, so it may be awhile!”
The next event will be in La Jolla, CA on July 17-19, 2016. For more information, visit www.VapeShopEvents.com.
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 norm@VapeMentors.com.
Before gaining recognition in the vape community for the looping vape trick videos she would upload to Vine, and before reaching over 63,000 followers on Instagram, 29-year-old Amy Hanks described herself as just being a normal, shy girl who grew up in Auburn, Alabama.
Since taking up vaping in 2013, Hanks has attended roughly 18 vape conventions in support of a number of vapor product companies that she promotes both on social media and at the many events she attends throughout the country.
Hanks describes the experience as “life changing” and she never would have guessed that her work promoting top brand companies would offer her the financial freedom to do with her time whatever she pleases.
“It’s surprising for sure because when I set out on this journey I did not have any of these plans in my head, and I had no idea it would all unfold the way it did,” Hanks said.
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When she began vaping, Hanks says she spent a lot of her free time on social media. While cycling through short videos on Vine, she began noticing a lot of females doing an assortment of vape tricks that she was “very enticed by.”
What soon followed was her attempts at mimicking what she saw and improving upon certain vape trick techniques that she would also record and upload to the short-form video sharing service.
“I would try to do little smoke rings and before I knew it I could do a lot of [tricks] and I started making videos and posting on Vine,” Hanks said. “I grew a following on there and I got up to about 11,000 followers.”
The Alabama native was also active on Facebook and would later transition from Vine to Instagram, when the latter social media platform allowed users to post longer, 15-second videos.
“We went from six second videos on Vine to 15 seconds on Instagram, so I kind of dropped off of Vine and it picked up from there” Hanks said. “I guess I just grew a following and I was also active on my Facebook and that’s where I got my first approach from a company.”
That company was The Steam Factory, a premium e-liquid brand whose owner, Jason Witherspoon, discovered Hanks’s videos on social media and invited her to promote his product at his company’s booth at Vape Summit 2014—a large convention held in Houston, Texas that really helped “put [Hanks] on the map.”
“At the time I didn’t know who was behind certain brands that I looked up to and really admired,” Hanks said. “And so when I got out to Vape Summit I began being introduced to some of these people, like the guys behind Five Pawns and Jaybo.”
Since then Hanks has engaged in promotion through her modeling work for companies like Craving Vapor, the makers of the HexOhm, Sicboy Industries and the Vaping Monkey, to name a few.
When she was originally contacted by Witherspoon, Hanks admits she was a little nervous at the prospect of flying and being thrust into an environment that was alien to her and that grand in scale.
What was also particularly troubling for Hanks was that Witherspoon’s offer came just four months into her recovery from drugs and alcohol.
Before she discovered vaping and gained online notoriety, Hanks was a tobacco user who suffered from depression and anxiety. When she was about 26 years old she was admitted to rehab for substance abuse.
During the 18 months she was in treatment, Hanks began smoking cigarettes more regularly, until a young man she met at a narcotics anonymous meetings turned her on to vaping in the fall of 2013.
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“I went to the meeting one night and I saw this young guy smoking on this weird looking tube device and my first thought was…what the hell is he doing?” Hanks said. “So that in itself started a conversation where he explained vaping to me.”
She continued smoking, but in the weeks that followed she began growing accustomed to the taste of the various e-liquid flavors she was able to sample from the man she first met at her NA meetings.
“I finally took myself to a local shop [in Alabama] and they gave me my first setup…and as I left I bought another pack, but I continued vaping,” Hanks said. “Three weeks later I was completely disgusted with the taste of cigarettes, and could not for the life of me take a few hits off one without just feeling horrible, so yeah, from then on out I’ve been hardcore vaping.”
Meeting those industry people whom she would later call close friends at Vape Summit helped put her mind at ease, and she felt grounded in her recovery and doubly humbled by the experience.
Her stop in Texas two years ago opened her eyes to the joys of meeting new, like-minded people, and networking with companies who sought her help in promoting their efforts, with 2015 being the year Hanks said was her busiest when it came to attending vape conventions.
Her convention days are far from over, but Hanks admits that while she is “very grateful for everything” she’s gained, she’s reached a point where taking a break feels like the best course of action.
Hanks’s ability to connect with people and develop meaningful and lasting personal and professional relationships is something she says she’ll never take for granted and that her personal development is thanks in no small part to her work and time spent in the vape industry.
“My drug addiction prevented me from feeling comfortable in my own skin and the constant worrying just stressed me out,” Hanks said. “I wanted to be in control of my emotions, so I would try to chemically alter that.”
“Being in the industry has brought me out of my shell, it’s given me purpose and taken me on a wild ride. This community and the way it makes me feel has been life changing.”
Marcy Coyne (VapingMarcy) is the founder and creator of #Iamavaperproject. It’s a coalition of vapers, organization, etc. to get together to stand up and fight for our vaping rights. With the recent announcement of the FDA regulations, the group’s popularity has grown quickly.
So, how exactly was this group inspired? According to Coyne, it was just an idea that sparked from getting a few people to do a video and end their segment by merely saying “I’m a vaper, not a smoker.” That’s it. Just a simple video project. Little did she know that once word got around on the idea, it would blow up. It seems as if this was something that the vaping community had been looking for and wanted, but didn’t exactly know when or where to start.
Coyne is not working alone on this. She has several other assistants helping her disseminate and making sure that the right information gets out there. Chris Meyers, the owner of Pope Juice jumped on the bandwagon immediately when he heard about #Iamavaperproject. He has been a big help to Coyne in creating event pages and recording videos from various events that he attends. Other helping hands have included Brandon from Blue Collar Vapes and BRM (see Facebook).
It seems, according to Brandon, that social media is the key right now in getting the word out. In fact, if you do a mere Facebook search on vaping groups, there are thousands of them from every state, if not every city. This is also why the group has posted any video collaboration on their YouTube page, Twitter account, Tumbler, and more. While the population of the online community may seem a small portion of the overall population, it’s actually pretty vast and by reaching out to the online vapers, they hope it can filter out into real life. Yet sadly, even a lot of people who visit their local vape shops are oblivious to what the online community is talking about (except for the occasional Phil Busardo or Grimm Green video).
While there has been this panic as of late because of the FDA, the group stresses calm as well as respectable and professional behavior. In fact, it is highly stressed as a rule on the group’s Facebook page as well as when people are doing videos.
With all the demand for exposure, the group has been working on creating a PayPal page for donations, creating products such as bumper stickers and t-shirts, and maybe in the future, hosting a fundraiser. So far, the administration board of #Iamavaperproject have appeared and recorded videos at VPX events, Vape Bash, and even smaller venues. Eventually, the group would like to give presentations at various meets and shows similar to what is done by the Vaping Militia, SFATA, and CASAA.
So what are the long terms goals of #Iamavaperproject? Basically, it is the hope that everyone comes together to fight for the industry. In total, between the online and offline community, there are at least 10 million vapers in the US alone. If every single person took action and spoke out, making sure that news media coverage on vaping is balanced, became active in government, and even simply voted, a lot would happen. Sadly, it hasn’t and the #Iamavaperproject wants to emphasize that fact.
When joining the Facebook group (the heart of #Iamavaperproject), you will not only interact with other vapers, but will see Facebook feeds of video Calls to Action for collaborative projects, various articles on vaping, and of course CASAA calls to action to contact legislators.
Let’s face it; if FDA-approved drugs like Chantix didn’t have all the suicidal side effects, vaping would not have been a thought. If the FDA-approved nicotine patches worked, no one would’ve thought to turn to vaping.
What is stressed is that #Iamavaperproject is not replacing other more established groups, but encouraging those groups (as well as members of them) to work together for the same goal: fighting for vaping rights.
Thus this is a community group, not a clique.
To find out more about I’m a Vaper Project, find them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or online at http://iamavaper2016.wix.com/Iamavaperproject
After a very successful first edition, VAPEVENT is back on the 11th and 12th of September at the Paris Event Center. The number of exhibitors and the exhibition area are doubled; join us at the must-do event of September.
VAPE PROFESSIONALS, HEALTH PROFESSIONALS, REVIEWERS, BLOGGERS, PARTNERS, PROJECT DEVELOPERS… We invite you to VAPEVENT on SUNDAY THE 11th AND MONDAY THE 12th of SEPTEMBER 2016. More than 120 exhibitors and 300 brands will be present on 6000m² exhibition. Online registration allows you a direct access without passing through the welcome desks. Free entry. Professionals only.