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On Saturday, September 5th, hundreds of small business owners, harm reduction advocates, and consumers gathered under the Washington Monument’s shadow to stand on a stage pointed directly at the White House and deliver a clear message to President Trump – We vape, we vote.

The “Save the Vape” rally was organized by the United Vapers Alliance to bring awareness to the September 9th deadline for the Pre-Market Tobacco Application (PMTA) put forth by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Many speakers pointed to the potential economic impact of the deadline, including Amanda Wheeler, who is the vice president of the Rocky Mountian Smoke-Free Alliance and co-owner of Jvapes, a small business providing access to vapor products with locations in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Arizona. 

She said that because the PMTA lumps in small businesses with big tobacco and regulates them as such, it will “destroy 14,000 small vapor businesses” like hers across the country.

PMTA Crowd

Crowds gather to rally against the PMTA deadline on Sept. 5th, 2020.

According to the FDA, the application is required for any new tobacco product. They must provide scientific data that “demonstrates a product is appropriate for the protection of public health.” 

“Now the FDA is telling us that if we don’t spend millions of dollars on testing for PMTA applications, we will lose everything we spent a decade building and our customers will no longer be able to use the products that so radically changed their lives,” said Wheeler. 

The FDA has estimated that “conducting the necessary scientific investigations and preparing a premarket tobacco application would take 5,000 hours.” This includes the time to conduct a chemical analysis and any necessary nonclinical or clinical studies. It is estimated this entire process can cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per application. This is a cost many small businesses can not afford, especially in light economic hardship caused by the pandemic. 

Over the afternoon, nearly two dozen speakers stepped up to the microphone, sharing not only their concerns over regulations but personal stories about how these products helped change their own lives, including harm reduction activist Kara Tibbetts. 

PMTA Rally

Kara Tibbetts speaks at the “Save The Vape” Rally on Sept. 5th, 2020

Kara explained to the crowd that life’s stresses pushed her to start smoking at 16, even though she promised her mother that she would never start the habit. She was introduced to safer nicotine products at age 19, and while she was able to stop smoking, she said the community around the products kept her involved.

“I was appalled when I found out cigarettes killed 480,000 Americans a year,” she said, “and I knew that I needed to spread the word of this life-saving technology.”

Advocates like Ms. Tibbetts used the rally to hammer home the message that the “we vape, we vote” movement has the power to shift the upcoming United States presidential election with millions of potential votes up for grabs. The advocates were clear they would continue to push officials to reject prohibitionist policies that they say threaten access to life-saving vapor products.

“I don’t know about you,” said Tibbetts, “but my vote in November depends on this issue. It’s time to see a change in the world and pave the way to a smoke-free future.”

A replay of the event can be found here.

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