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Hazy future looms for Mitchell's local vape shop

Amid a recent Food and Drug Administration regulation that clamped down on vaping, the future of Mitchell's local vape shop is hazy. "By 2022, I think all local vape shops will be forced to close," said Andreas Unruh, owner of FogNDroz vape shop,...

Andreas Unruh, owner of FogNDroz in Mitchell, holds his very first vape pen that he purchased custom made in 2006. According to FDA regulations items created after 2016 will have to be taken off the market by December 2022. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Andreas Unruh, owner of FogNDroz in Mitchell, holds his very first vape pen that he purchased custom made in 2006. According to FDA regulations items created after 2016 will have to be taken off the market by December 2022. (Matt Gade / Republic)
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Amid a recent Food and Drug Administration regulation that clamped down on vaping, the future of Mitchell's local vape shop is hazy.

"By 2022, I think all local vape shops will be forced to close," said Andreas Unruh, owner of FogNDroz vape shop, located at 1007 N. Main St.

On Aug. 8, 2016, the FDA finalized a regulation that deemed vaping devices, nicotine gels, e-juice and e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which make up almost all of the items Unruh sells at his shop. The regulation created a new set of standards in which vaping products had to abide by, adding serious challenges for Unruh's local vape shop.

"Once they changed us to being an actual tobacco product, that also meant we can only advertise to adult venues only," Unruh said. "If you try to sell something on Facebook, or even mention vape, it will be flagged instantly, so we are very limited to where we can advertise."

Generally a vaping device consists of a mouthpiece, a cartridge containing the nicotine gel or e-juice, and a battery powered heating component for the device. E-cigarettes became widely popular since their introduction into the U.S. market in 2006, which blossomed into the creation of the vaping industry.

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Part of the FDA's reasoning behind enforcing the recent regulations were health concerns and the vaping industry targeting minors. In 2014, South Dakota made it illegal to sell e-cigarettes and vapes to minors, taking a proactive step against tobacco use among minors.

"I have daughters of my own, and all of the things the FDA said I needed to do, I was already complying with in the first place," Unruh said. "And over the years, the FDA has backpedaled on a few things in the (2016 rule), so that shows there is a lack of understanding in the vaping industry."

Under the regulation, any vaping tobacco product and e-juice that was manufactured after Aug. 8, 2016, will be forced to comply with the extensive list of standards found in the FDA regulations regarding vaping products.

In order to abide by the long list of standards found in the regulations, Unruh said it would cost him and many other vaping retailers a fortune.

Prior to the 2016 regulation, vape shops were allowed to produce their own e-juices, which is the liquid nicotine found in the vaping devices. Unruh originally produced his own e-juice on site at FogNDroz, but FDA regulations ended that practice, prompting him to become a sole retailer rather than a manufacturer.

Vaping products that were produced or manufactured after the Aug. 8, 2016 date won't be affected by the regulation, which Unruh said is the FDA's version of a grandfather clause to the vaping industry. For Unruh, unfortunately, that grandfather clause would leave him with almost no products left to be sold after 2022, as he said a majority of his devices and e-juices were manufactured before 2016.

"We would essentially be forced to sell just vape pens, and that is all that would be available," Unruh said. "The pens would only be tobacco and menthol."

Advocacy groups opposing regulations

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Most of the nicotine that makes up the juice inside vaping devices is synthesized and made in a lab, which is called salt nicotine, meaning it's not derived from tobacco. Freebase e-juice is the other nicotine mixture that is tobacco derived, which Unruh also sells at his vape shop.

Given that the majority of the e-juices he sells at his vape shop are salt nicotine, Unruh said the current argument against the rule for him and other vape shops alike is that the salt nicotine isn't a tobacco product.

While Unruh acknowledges the FDA needs to regulate the evolving market of vaping and e-cigarettes, he said the FDA misunderstands the products.

"When I first started there was no age limit at all, and it was the Wild West," Unruh said. "I'm not against all of the FDA's regulations, because they are doing the best they can with an evolving product."

Grassroots movements to combat the FDA regulations have formed across the country, and Unruh is a member of one of them.

According to Unruh, there are currently 10 active lawsuits against the FDA regulations, and he joined an advocacy group called Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, a nonprofit organization that actively opposes the regulations. Other advocacy groups have also created petitions to save the future of vaping.

Unruh believes the FDA is not acting alone on the vaping regulations.

"I think it's a double-edged sword with the FDA and Big Tobacco, and Big Tobacco has really deep pockets," Unruh said. "My revenue went down a lot with the new regulations, but I'm not giving up. I don't want to see people be forced to have to go back to smoking cigarettes."

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