Amanda Wheeler

    Photo: Malcom Griffiths

    Continuing the fight

    Amanda Wheeler got involved in the vapor business after a personal tragedy. Despite a cancer diagnosis, she was unable to quit smoking for years—until she discovered vapor products. Eager to share her success with others, Wheeler and her husband, Jourdan, opened JVapes, an e-liquid manufacturer and retail store in Prescott, Arizona, USA, in 2012.

    The business was successful, quickly expanding to multiple locations across three states. Wheeler was helping her customers quit smoking combustibles and became increasingly involved in advocacy.

    In October of 2020, Wheeler and fellow business owner Char Owen created the American Vapor Manufacturers Association (AVM) to help small businesses navigate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s onerous premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) submission process. The organization also engaged in federal lobbying and sought to provide reduced-cost scientific testing and expert regulatory compliance advice to members preparing PMTAs.

    The deadline for submitting PMTAs to the FDA was Sept. 9, 2020. Wheeler submitted timely applications and was allowed to keep her products on the market for up to one year while the FDA reviewed her submissions. But on Sept. 9, 2021, Wheeler received a marketing denial order (MDO). The regulatory agency appeared determined to put the company she and her husband had built, along with the industry she passionately defended, out of business.

    That day, the FDA issued MDOs to more than 130 companies, requiring them to pull an estimated 946,000 products from the market. The bloodbath continued in the following weeks. At press time, the FDA had issued 323 MDOs accounting for more than 1,167,000 flavored electronic nicotine-delivery systems (ENDS). As of Sept. 28, not a single ENDS had been approved.

    “[The] FDA knew that they didn’t have the time or the resources to give our products fair consideration, but instead of asking for help, they let the 9/9 deadline pass and left the more than 500 companies subject to their decision in an unstable and probably untenable position,” Wheeler explained. “The FDA’s arbitrary ruling effectively criminalizes thousands of long-standing businesses in communities all across the country. Those entrepreneurs now have to junk their inventory, fire their employees, stiff their investors, and defer their dreams.”

    Wheeler said she was standing up for the “little guy”—the thousands of small business owners who manufacture, distribute and retail open system products in vape shops all over the United States. She explained that her business and other AVM members made every attempt within their means to comply with the FDA regulations. It was an expensive process. It was also a system designed for small businesses to fail from the very beginning, she said.

    “My company personally submitted several hundred thousand pages of documents to the FDA in an attempt to comply with this one premarket tobacco application standard. The [FDA’s] decision doesn’t just make a mockery of that earnest work. It also makes the more than 10 million Americans who made the switch to vapor products—in our vape shops, with our liquids—into outlaws, too,” said Wheeler. 

    Wheeler said the FDA, in an act of “regulatory arson,” was creating a tobacco-led monopoly over the vaping industry, as only the companies with the deepest pockets stand a chance to survive the agency’s cumbersome PMTA process.

    She also focused on what she perceived to be one of the biggest challenges facing the industry today: misinformation. “There is one other group I want to address with my time here. It’s the activists and the press who—whether because they are misguided or malicious—spread the falsehoods and distortions that directly led to this tragic outcome,” she said.

    The biggest victims of the FDA’s actions, according to Wheeler, are the vapers who will now struggle to acquire the products that have helped them stay off of cigarettes. Wheeler vowed she would continue to fight for her customers and fellow business owners. “Even through their dismay, I am hearing a constant refrain: We are not going to stand for it,” she noted.

    “We will be at the FDA’s doorstep demanding answers or forcing them through Freedom of Information Act laws and the courts. We are not surrendering our business or abandoning vapers to cigarettes,” she said. “As we say in Arizona, this is more than just a fight. It’s going to be a reckoning.”