Across the world, tens of millions of people have quit smoking for good with the help of e-cigarettes. Vaping has become so big – so quickly – that it sometimes feels as though it has been around forever. In fact, vaping has become an international phenomenon in the span of just over a decade.
Vaping isn’t just something that’s changed the lives of smokers and been a major boon for public health; it’s also created an industry that now spans the world. In the United States alone, there are now tens of thousands of vape shops supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs – and along with the product sellers, there are also manufacturers. Though most of the world’s vaping hardware comes from China – as is the case with most consumer electronics –vape juice is made just about everywhere. A global distribution network makes it possible to buy JUUL in Australia, Dinner Lady in Canada and Naked 100 in the United Kingdom.
Let’s learn more about how vape juice became an international industry.
Vaping Originates in China
If you’re a vaper, you’re probably aware of the fact that the modern mass-produced e-cigarette was invented by a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik. Although there were earlier attempts during the second half of the 20th century to create a safer cigarette, those attempts failed due to technological shortcomings and failure to find investors. When Hon Lik invented his e-cigarette, it was finally possible to create a battery-powered vaporizer that was similar in size and shape to a tobacco cigarette. Lik also had the benefit of working for a pharmaceutical corporation with the necessary financial resources to turn Lik’s idea into a real product.
In the beginning, every e-cigarette was a roughly cigarette-shaped or pen-shaped device that stored its e-liquid in disposable cartridges. If you owned an e-cigarette, you didn’t buy bottled vape juice – you bought cartridges for the e-cigarette that you owned. For the Chinese e-cigarette managers, flavor was almost an afterthought. Manufacturers offered tobacco and menthol cartridges, and that was pretty much it for a while. Eventually, they began to add other flavors like cherry, vanilla and coffee. Consumers loved the fact that e-cigarettes enabled them to stop using tobacco products, but vaping was really more about enjoying an alternative form of nicotine that was satisfying and smoke free. As the vaping market became larger, that would quickly change.
The United States Becomes the Biggest Vaping Market
Vaping caught on quickly in just about every developed nation almost as soon as e-cigarettes became widely available. Nowhere, however, was that truer than it was in the United States. All over the country, small e-cigarette businesses began popping up. Those businesses imported e-cigarette kits and cartridges from China, put their own labels on them and sold them online and in physical locations such as mall kiosks. Some of the early American e-cigarette companies ultimately became quite large – and while that was happening, the Chinese manufacturers of vaping products were beginning to release refillable vaping devices under their own brand names. Suddenly, there was a market for bottled vape juice. At the same time, the demand for local sellers of vaping products began to increase. People wanted ways to buy vaping products and e-liquid locally instead of buying those items online and waiting for shipping. Vape shops began to appear all around America.
Vape juice is a fairly simple product consisting of vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavors and nicotine. All of those ingredients are readily available to anyone who wants them, so many American vape shops began manufacturing and selling their own house-made e-liquids. Other entrepreneurs launched e-liquid brands and sold their products online. Within a few years, some American e-liquid makers became so popular that they were exporting their products to Canada, Europe and other regions. Before long, vapers in places like the United Kingdom were importing their vaping hardware from China and their vape juice from the United States. Vape juice had truly gone global.
Because there were more vapers in the United States than in any other region, American leadership of the vape juice industry was virtually uncontested through the first several years of the 2010s. At one point, there were probably hundreds of small and large e-liquid producers in the country, and many of the companies were producing some truly innovative flavors.
By the end of the decade, though, most of those companies would be gone.
America Relinquishes Leadership of the Vaping Industry
One of the reasons why the American vaping industry grew as quickly as it did was because it was largely unregulated. As long as companies didn’t market e-cigarettes as smoking cessation products and sold only to adults, they could essentially do whatever they wanted. That, however, changed when the United States Food and Drug Administration stepped in and began regulating e-cigarettes as tobacco products in 2016. Seemingly overnight, the United States went from a nation in which vaping was only lightly regulated to one that had perhaps the most draconian vaping regulations of any nation in which vaping wasn’t banned outright.
The reason why most of America’s e-liquid makers have gone out of business is because the law requires every manufacturer of “tobacco products” to submit an incredibly costly application to the FDA before bringing a new product to the market. All e-liquid makers were required to submit those applications – one application for every product they made – by September 2020. Only the wealthiest e-liquid makers submitted applications for their products; the rest went out of business.
Regulators might have put most of the American vape juice companies out of business, but e-liquid makers in the rest of the world aren’t exactly sad about that. The reduction of imports from the United States has made vapers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand and elsewhere more willing than ever to seek out locally made vape juices – and the e-liquid manufacturers in those nations have responded by creating some of the most unique flavor blends that have appeared to date. Government regulation hasn’t been a good thing for the American vaping community, but it has helped the vape juice industry to become more of a global phenomenon than ever before.