In September 2016, Jake Butcher, a seasoned vapor industry expert and state government affairs specialist, joined the Vapor Technology Association (VTA) as its state affairs manager, an appointment that VTA Executive Director Tony Abboud said signaled the association’s commitment to fighting at the state level. “We cannot save vapor unless our industry is also prepared to fight at the state level,” he asserted. “It’s as simple as that. With the FDA’s declaration that we are ‘tobacco,’ the state-level anti-vaping groups in coordination with their national counterparts are already planning their assault on our industry. We will combat their coordinated assault with our own multi-state coordinated strategy.”
Tobacco Business caught up with Butcher to discuss his approach to advocacy at the state level. The following are excerpts from that interview.
Tobacco Business: How did you get involved in the vapor industry?
Butcher: I originally became interested in the industry because I came from a long line of farmers and coal miners, and a lot of smokers as well. I have seen firsthand the challenges associated with trying to quit the use of combustible cigarettes, some successful and some not. Trying to quit that product is a daily struggle. This new innovative technology is a way to shift away from that product and improve health.
I’ve now been involved in the industry on the government affairs side for a few years. Our law firm represented an Illinois vapor association for a little over two years and we have enjoyed success addressing some of the issues that we are seeing nationally now. These were things that were not unique to Illinois, things that have been raised by opponents of the vapor industry across the country—flavor-ban legislation and efforts to add vapor products to the Smoke Free Illinois Act. We also saw efforts in the past year to increase the age to vape from 18 to 21, and overall an effort to treat vapor product in the same regulatory framework as combustible cigarettes.
Currently, we have the new deeming regulations from the FDA and then we also have states enacting their own restrictions. How do you expect this to pan out? Will states continue to push their own agendas? Or is there any indication that now that there are FDA rules, some of them may take a wait-and-see approach?
That is yet to be seen. You have to remember that when the deeming regs came down, most legislatures were in the middle of their regularly scheduled sessions. I think now we may see more of an effort at the state level to treat vapor product like tobacco products. Anti-vapor advocates will push that—that vapor products are tobacco products and should be regulated as such. We just have a fundamentally different view of that than they do. There will be more research done, and we have to educate policymakers and lawmakers. That is why VTA has taken the steps [it has] in seeking to formalize the coordination of state activities.
What can retailers do to help ensure that legislators understand the industry?
One of the biggest things is forming a common association to work together on advocacy. That is the biggest first step. What we are seeking to do with VTA is take a proactive approach to education and influencing policy at a state level. We have been fortunate in Illinois and some other states to band together and work together on a coordinated approach. Instead of one person contacting their legislators, you have several hundred reaching out in a coordinated manner.
Obviously it is important for every single shop to make contact with their legislators. I think that that one-on-one connection—bringing them in, inviting them into your shop and showing them what you do on a day-in and day-out basis to try to improve lives—is important. That would be my biggest advice: band together with other shops on common goals, whether that be against taxation or flavor bans; the principles are the same.
For more information on VTA’s advocacy, visit savevapor.org.
– Story by Jennifer Gelfand
This story first appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.