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United Tobacco Vapor Group Founder Discusses FDA's Plan To Ban Flavored E-Cigarettes


The Trump administration plans to ban nearly all flavored vaping products - think blueberry, vanilla, cherry e-cigarettes. About a quarter of high schoolers say they use these products; products that contain nicotine, which is addictive. What's more, federal health officials are trying to figure out why hundreds of people who have vaped recently have reported a mysterious lung illness. So e-cigarette makers are under pressure.

Let's hear from one of them right now. Ray Story is founder and owner of the United Tobacco Vapor Group.


RAY STORY: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: Why does your company make flavors like blueberry, like vanilla, like cherry?

STORY: Well, to be quite honest with you, at the end of the day, when you're looking at a product that is an adult product - and that's how we see it - the adult has the ability to choose.

CHANG: But why blueberry, vanilla and cherry - why those flavors?

STORY: Actually, you know, we have quite a few individuals that like the blueberry. For me, it gets old quick. So therefore, I have, like, more coffee flavors. But the point is cherry and strawberry are actually fairly popular flavors amongst adults.

And when we're talking about flavors, we're not talking about those kind of flavors. We're talking about the cotton candy type of flavors. We steer away from any flavors that expressly go after a particular target market audience. And those flavors we obviously will never carry, never made and will never participate in our lineup.

CHANG: I want to ask you how important you think flavors are. Yesterday, the Trump administration announced that it would ban thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes. How much of a difference do you think that would make in discouraging kids from vaping?

STORY: They're tackling it backwards. At the end of the day, put in age verification because otherwise, every teenager would be drinking beer and going to the liquor store four, five times a day. Put in age verification. Make sure - and keep those companies - and hold them accountable. But if you put in age verification as an adult product, that is all you need to do.

CHANG: So how much business do you stand to lose once this ban on thousands of flavors goes into effect?

STORY: That remains to be seen. I don't know. And I don't think it will go into effect. I think, at the end of the day, cooler heads will prevail because what's going to happen is you have to have the understanding and the knowledge and have all the information available to you prior to making such a drastic statement and doing something that will ultimately drive most people back to cigarettes.

We have literally, you know, destroyed the actual tobacco category as we know it because we gave them a vastly less harmful alternative. And that is what we are very proud of, and that is exactly what we're trying to continue.

CHANG: It may be less harmful. But ultimately - let's be honest - you are selling an addictive product. There's nicotine in it. Kids are getting hooked. Many of them don't realize that they are getting hooked. And this is a problem because there have been studies suggesting that vaping may affect brain development in young people, in teenagers.

So let me ask you, what should be done about this? You mentioned that we should more rigorously vet the age of people buying these products, but these kids aren't necessarily directly buying these products in stores. They're still getting their hands on these products. So what else should be done?

STORY: I understand that. And we're obviously doing everything we can as an industry, but we're not an enforcement body. The government, at one point in time - I sued the federal government in '08, won in 2010. It is now 2019, and we still do not have comprehensive, you know, age verification in place across the country.

CHANG: So you think this is a government problem. It's not something - it's not a problem for businesses to solve. Is that your view?

STORY: Well, the business can only do so much. And when you have responsible players - one company targeting minors - obviously, it's been all over the news, as we know - is not a responsible partner because at the end of the day, all they were looking for was making some money. But at the end of the day, there's plenty of responsible players that have customers - all of age - and they focus only on selling to the adult smoker and provide them a good product.

CHANG: Ray Story is founder and owner of the United Tobacco Vapor Group. He spoke with us via Skype from Alpharetta, Ga.

Thanks very much.

STORY: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.