TSFA on Capitol Hill with VTA
On Wednesday, June 8, 2016, I had the honor of embarking Capitol Hill side by side with Dimitris Agrafiotis and 20 Tennessee vape store owners in representation of the Tennessee Smoke Free Association. Our objective was very clear, to discuss FDA deeming regulations with our representatives, the impact they will have on small businesses, and to ask for support on the Cole-Bishop Amendment.
We started at the Hart Building with a briefing from the exceptional Shimmy Stein of West Front Strategies to review the day’s schedule and outlined discussion topics to cover with each representative. Once we had our strategy laid out, we headed to our first meeting with staffers from the HELP Committee. With an even larger group than the last visit to their office, we all piled around a table and were met with friendly and familiar faces and updated their staff of the recent burdensome FDA regulations, the challenges we face in compliance, and the importance of changing the predicate date from February 2007 to August 2016. After a somewhat lengthy visit and their support for our industry, we were off to our next representative.
Much of the same talking points resounded throughout the day with each meeting. With the groundwork laid during TSFA’s visit to Capitol Hill in June 2015 with many of the same representatives, our goals were easier to get across since they had more insight into the industry from our prior visit. We reinforced that there are over 380 vape stores across the state, with an average of 5 employees per store, occupying over 900,000 sq. ft. of previously unoccupied space, including several in revitalizing areas. TSFA currently represents 75 of those stores, with a total of almost 500 employees and at least 150,000 sq. ft. of space. We explained not only how costly the PMTA process is on every vapor product, but how the required studies of proving each product as having a positive impact on human health is impossible given the short 24 month time frame.
In addition, Steve Nair of MOV pointed out how his vape store employees are like family, and telling them the possibility of them not having jobs in the future was devastating. The Livezeys of Knoxville Vapor described their customer base and how they are able to provide a family atmosphere to several, including a few over 70 years old. The Morins of West Tennessee Vapor expressed concern for opening new stores and that any future expansions to other cities within Tennessee are now on hold. Jerud Blake of H20 Vape Shop touched on distribution. This is just a sampling of discussions that pulled on my heartstrings and had staffers fervently scribbling in their notepads.
Dimitris and the Chattanooga store owners headed to Congressman Chuck Fleischmann’s office to thank him once again for his support of the Cole-Bishop amendment, meanwhile the Knoxville vape store owners gained support from Congressman Duncan, which was an outstanding surprise! Overall the day was extremely productive and the outcomes of the six meetings were positive.
Personally, it was an unforgettable experience that not only reinforced my pride in the people I’m blessed with representing on a day to day basis, but also gave me powerful insight into the legislative process. It was fulfilling to read of the successes that other states had on the hill that day as well, including UTSFA and FSFA.
Even Greg Conley was spotted doing a presentation on the fly with the US Surgeon General! I’m relieved that somebody spotted Conley. Another trip, another missed opportunity to meet the man, although I managed to catch a mere glimpse of him on my way to the cab. Maybe next time.
With regulations coming into effect on August 8th, right now is a critical time to inform our representatives of the impact they will have on our industry and garner support from them. Please take a moment to thank those in favor of moving the predicate date and contact your local representative to let them know how important it is to you, your store, your quality of health, and the lives of current smokers who may not have the chance to benefit from innovative technology that is 95% safer than smoking. A huge thanks goes out to VTA for organizing such an important event.
Vice President/Executive Director of West Tennessee
Tennessee Smoke Free Association