October 2016

Vapor Expo International Rocks Chicago

By Norm Bour

Here is why Chicago’s Vapor Expo International is so significant: It is the only vape show that excludes the public.

Sorry if that bothers some, but this event, in its’ third year, has always been about business. It’s noisy, but maintainable. It’s smoky, but not so your vision is obscured. And they have education.


Day one highlighted Troutman Sanders legal expert Bryan Haynes, who shared updates that have unfolded since the deeming regs came out on May 10. His opening line, which was “Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly,” set the tone for the reality that followed.

Haynes was not optimistic about litigation against the FDA and stated that it was an uphill battle that would take time. He used a car analogy when describing the process of conforming to yet unclear FDA guidelines.

“They want a Ferrari but maybe that costs too much. You could deliver a Honda, but maybe a Yugo would do. Since they don’t really know what they want you possibly could use Uber!” Don Burke, VP with Management Science Associates,

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MSA, shared recent vaping trends and validated what many have seen on the streets; sales are down. Burke has an uncanny ability to take lots of data (he’s a self-proclaimed “data geek”) and over a brief 45-minute session, made his data digestible.

An area of note is that more drug stores are carrying liquids. If we ask ourselves, “Has vaping gone mainstream?” the answer seems to be clear. Backing that up, Burke commented that the number of Google searches for “vape” and “vapor” continue to rise.


Of the few true B2B vape events, Chicago always shines. The list of speakers included Farrell Delman, president of the Tobacco Merchants Association (TMA); Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association (AVA); Cap O’Rourke, Legislative Strategist with SFATA, and Tony Abboud, President and Legislative Director of the Vapor Technology Association (VTA).

Topics discussed included whether vape shop really are smoking cessation clinics and the likelihood of any one of the thousands of vape businesses being able to afford the “millionaires lottery,” as Conley put it. “The estimated cost of Pre-Market Tobacco Application (PMTA) will be over one million dollars per SKU. Most of you will not survive,” he predicted.

SFATA leader O’Rourke hit everyone between the eyes when he posed the following: “How many of you know your Senator or Representatives?” A few hands went up. “How many of you visited or called them?” Even fewer hands went up.

“Our visits (from SFATA) mean nothing!” he bellowed. “They only want to hear from their constituents.” And he is right.

Abboud is the new kid on the black since the VTA is less than one-year-old. Their list of members is growing and their primary purpose is to “continue the progress it has made on passing the Cole-Bishop Amendment, which will change the predicate date and keep all vapor companies in business,” per Abboud.

“This will give the industry enough runway for VTA to work on creating a new regulatory scheme that will treat vapor products as technology products, not tobacco products.”


Vapor World Expo is owned by Phillips & King, who are major distributors of various vaping products, including their own lines. They are in turn owned by Kretak, a name that few in or outside the industry have heard of. But they are quiet giants.Tracy Villegas wears numerous hats within Kretak and was responsible for bringing in many of the exhibitors to Chicago. Her day to day job consists of vetting new hardware and liquid lines for Kretak.

Kretak is very focused in the event world and offers only business events. They also own Tobacco Plus

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Expo (TBE) which was formerly known as TPC. The letters don’t matter but the focus does, since both events are exclusively business to business.

Prime floor space was dominated by Phillips and King, along with a dozen or so of the product lines they carry. Council of Vapor, major hardware manufacturers and liquid producers, displayed a new set up, but the big name in the room was Molecule abs.

Molecule has become the market leader in e-liquid production and includes some of the top names in their portfolio, including the best-selling liquid today; Cuttwood. Some of their flavors, like Conviction, Halcyon, Taffy Man, and Von Vape were included in the massive 20,000 square foot area, but one in particular stood out.

There are only a few vaping market leaders that can launch their own line solely on the strength of their name and one of them launched at VEI: Phil Busardo.

Busardo has been on the cutting edge of vaping since 2009, and is one of the most followed You Tube reviewers on his site, TasteyourJuice.com. He has been applauded and critical against childishness and immaturity in the business and has been especially vocal against cloud chasers and their mindset.

“We did not get into this business to make a spectacle of ourselves,” Busardo said. “We got into it to stop smoking or to help others quit.”

“The more we pander to mascots and other forms of marketing that can be misinterpreted, the worse it will be.”

Busardo’ s brand is very simple in its’ labeling, with a script font of his first and last initials on top of each other on a flat black label.

Busardo has been an icon in this business for years and I applauded him for finally monetizing his status and said it was long overdue.


With Indiana next door, there were several attendees from that battered state. Battered since they may soon be out of business due to a state law with such severe restrictions that only six e-liquid companies are able to sell juice in the state. Many of those have signed exclusivity agreements with major retailers which leaves the majority of brick and mortar shops out in the a cold.

Gary Kaiser own Club Vapin, an online subscription service. A native of the state, Gary is disgusted by what their legislature has done.

“We’re right over the bridge from Kentucky and we’re moving our business there. How sad is that?” he queried. “I pay taxes in this state and will reside in Indiana, but yet I have to take my business elsewhere. I’m ashamed,” he confessed.

“Not only that, but they are basically saying ‘it’s okay to go back to tobacco, all you smokers’, which sets a terrible tone.”

If you are still in business next summer, plan on taking a few days away from work and visit Vapor Expo International, where business really gets done.

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 1.3 M downloads. Norm interviews the masters of vape and thought leaders in the vape space. Contact him at norm@VapeMentors.com.