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Cyclops Blog Interview: New York State Vaping Association’s Cheryl Richter

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Cheryl Richter is a long-time vape advocate in the industry and the co-owner of New York-based Cherry Vape. She also is the executive director of the New York State Vapor Association, and we talked to her about how things have changed this year, not only for her business at Cherry Vape, but in the advocacy landscape. We finish the interview off with her three wishes for the industry.

First of all, how has business at Cherry Vape changed with not only the deeming regulations but the New York State law changes. How have you had to change the way you do business?

In December of 2016 our lease was up at our store, and because of the uncertainly … we saw a drop in sales we saw it best to not commit to another lease. We closed our shop in December. We still have our wholesale business and we still have our online business, and with the online business I was able to keep a lot of our local customers. It ended up not being a bad move on our part. We get hit by New York and we get hit with the federal stuff. It wasn’t just a matter of not realizing that Scott Gottlieb would come, it was also that we were looking at an onslaught of negative bills in Albany that would have really decimated the industry. There was a lot of thought that went into that.

What it has enabled me to do is concentrate a lot more on the advocacy in New York State. Last March I became the executive director of the New York State Vapor Organization — we are a trade organization — we were the first of its kind that is independent from a national organization. We are actually our own lobbyists. We’re registered in every county in New York State, so we can not only lobby in Albany, but we can also lobby elsewhere. The president really set that up very nicely with a lot of forethought. Last year we had five board members and had over 100 meetings in Albany last session. Now we’re back up in Albany almost every week since mid-January.

You obviously have been a huge advocate for consumers, speaking at the White House and in Washington. What’s been the reception over the years, and have you seen it change at all? Do you feel like you are making a difference in other words?
I was unable to go to this last fly-in this week so I’m waiting to hear back to see at the Foxwood National Vape Expo to kind of get their report, but preliminarily what I’m hearing is that the tone in Washington D.C. now is let’s see what Scott Gottlieb is going to do. There is a lot of progress made in getting sponsors for the Cole Bishop language and the appropriations bill, and that’s a good thing. The message to the industry is that everyone needs to submit their comments for the Nicotine and Flavors ANPRM.

I will say that we have greatly noticed a difference in the tone in Albany. Last year in our 100 meetings that we had, we presented marketed information about the size of the vape shop market in New York State, and we also presented a lot of scientific data. It’s a lot of people to meet with and get your message out to. Sometimes we had eight meetings in one day. Our message was very simply that people are using e-cigarettes to quit, don’t mess that up. We had the science to back it up and we were able to show a 10 cent per ml tax in the governor’s budget bill, and in fact the assembly’s version had a 40 cent per ml tax. So, this year it’s back on the table and we’re up there fighting that once again with even more market analysis and the difference in tone is people are now asking us questions that they want answered and we’re going back to them with those answers. Whereas last year they kind of nodded their head and because I think we were so annoying — it was a big effort in New York last year, getting the consumers involved, CASAA call to actions and people live streaming on Facebook to call your legislators today. We’re almost at that point where we’re going to pull that trigger, but right now we’ve been asked by the governor’s office some really telling questions, so we don’t want to drive everybody crazy yet. We think we’re making progress.

There is so much information out there, and I’m feeling like the public is shifting its stance. Where do you advise people get their information about the correct studies, public health issues and really, ingredients in second-hand vape and vaping products in general?

I think from the reliable places: CASAA, SFATA. CASAA has loads of the right kind of information to make arguments with. People need to watch hyperbole and exaggeration because then the trust is gone. If you stick to the truth about something and say we don’t know the long-term effects, or and you’re right about that, however we have this or know this, they trust you. They feel you are telling them the right stuff.

As a trade association similar to any other trade association in the United States, it’s up to the association to bring numbers of the market. We are not going to find vape shop data through Nielsen. People who lead different trade associations need to find out that information themselves. That is not an easy task. I’ve done it two years in a row now — it’s Google searches, it’s Yelp searches, it’s calling people up and seeing if they’re still in business. But because we did it last year and I did it again in January of this year, we were able to tell them this year that there was a 16-and-a-half-percent growth in the state of New York and that we employ another I think it was 250 people. A total of 2700 people employed by vape shops in New York State today — that information raises their eyebrows. That’s giving them pause. We’re able to tell them how much tax revenue we bring to the state. That gave them a LOT of pause. Last year it was over $15 million in sales tax, and that’s a lot less than what they are expecting in the budget to bring in with a 10 cent per ml tax.

If you had to narrow down your three wishes for this year in the vaping industry, what are some things that you actually think are attainable things that you would like to see happen?

1. My biggest beef are the e-liquids companies that continue even today to infringe on trademarks and clearly market to children. It would be achievable if distributors refuse to carry those products. I believe that it comes from the distributors; I don’t think that it comes necessarily from the vape shops, but obviously there are a lot of vape shops that refuse to sell that stuff, but obviously there are a lot that don’t care.

2. My other wish would be that vape shop owners understood how important it is, no matter what state they are in, to support their state associations. It costs money to continually travel to Albany. New York is a big state; there are other big states. You have to go to the capitol a couple of times a month when they are in session. Going to events where you are able to talk to a legislator costs money. The people in this industry who own vape shops have to not continually put the burden on a few other shop owners. Distributors, wholesalers, manufacturers have to support the states that they do business in.

3. The consumers who have been so positively affected by vaping if they would also get involved in the calls to action. To really have the message heard it has to be from numerous voices and unfortunately people have gotten tired of calls to action. But if an association requests a call to action of its members or of the community, there is a reason for it.