Christine, a 29-year-old in Michigan, is freaking out. When Michigan’s governor Gretchen Whitmer announced an “emergency administrative ruling” to ban vape flavors, she began preparing for the worst. “But now, with Trump’s announcement” — plans for a federal ban on most flavored e-cigs — “I’m essentially in panic mode,” Christine says.
Shortly after she began vaping, Christine turned to homebrewing in order to save money and make her own flavor profiles. Earlier this summer I wrote about the growing community of e-juice homebrewers like Christine, who find both a hobby and a way to slowly taper off her nicotine addiction.
However, after an outbreak of vaping-related injuries have landed hundreds in the hospital, the federal government has vowed to crack down. Specifically, the goal is to ban vape juice flavoring that attracts kids to adopt the habit. The DIY e-juice community sees this as a sign for the end times.
“DIY is going to blow up if there is any sort of nationwide government ban like we are now seeing in Michigan,” Kirk, another homebrewer, tells me. “You could probably make a decent comparison to bathtub gin during prohibition.”
Adrian, who works for an online e-juice retailer and asked to remain anonymous, tells MEL he’s seen more bulk orders than usual over the last week. “Customers are concerned and are stockpiling their favorite flavors,” he says.
On Reddit, the homebrewing e-juice community has seen exponential growth in the last week — specifically welcoming those from Michigan:
The reason homebrewing e-juice is going to “blow up,” the DIY crowd says, is because it’d essentially be impossible to ban the concentrated flavors homebrewers use.
Seperate from nicotine, the flavor and other ingredients involved in making your own vape juice are “used for other purposes as well,” Kirk explains. “You can go into the local grocery and get flavoring concentrates used to make candy, and use these to vape, so long as they don’t have food coloring.”
According to Christine, it would take the FDA “classifying candy and beverage flavorings as tobacco products in order to restrict vapers from accessing them.”
In other words, if you want to continue vaping flavored nicotine, your best bet is to brew it yourself — which means a whole lot of people are about to find about about the homebrew scene. Not only does more attention bring more scrutiny to the practice, but many homebrewers are worried about newcomers not knowing what they’re doing.
It’s recently come to light that many of the vape sickness cases were related to illicit THC cartridges. “These use oil, mostly vitamin-E oil,” Kirk says, “and vaping oil causes lipid pneumonia.”
“Most DIYers know that you cannot use oil-based ingredients in juice because it can cause lipid pneumonia,” Christine adds, “but the average vaper likely isn’t aware of this. My concern is that some kid is going to try flavoring their liquid with vanilla extract or some kind of essential oil and get themselves or others very sick.”
“I promise you, if flavors are banned, we will be hearing about brand-new cases of people being hospitalized from vaping-related illnesses,” Christine tells MEL. “The recent batch of illnesses are due to people using black market products that were created by people who don’t have a clue what they’re doing, and now our politicians are making it so we have to operate within the black market in order to use flavored products. It makes no sense.”
But it’s not just the new wave of naive vapers the home-brewing community is worried about. “My only concern would be if safe, reliable sources of nicotine were banned, leading to the rise of dubious imports and even self-extraction (yes, there are ways to do this),” Kirk tells MEL.
Christine shares his concern. Since the Michigan governor’s announced ban on flavored vape juice last Wednesday, she’s spent hundreds of dollars on concentrated nicotine, and others are doing the same.
“For the time being, everyone is planning for the worst,” she tells MEL. “If the FDA made it illegal for adult consumers to purchase concentrated nicotine, a lot of us would be screwed.”
To understand their worry, imagine concentrated nicotine is hard alcohol and the government just moved to ban mixed drinks. The government’s next move would hypothetically be to regulate hard alcohol and set rules about the potency of hand-mixed drinks. The result: a lot of canned Old Fashioneds.
In other words, home brewers don’t like their vape juice pre-packaged in a JUUL. They like to brew up their own mixes with varying concentrations and new ingredients.
“Without concentrated nicotine, I lose control over nicotine levels and PG/VG ratios, plus it’s a lot less economical, too,” Christine explains.
Losing control over the amount of nicotine in e-juice would also prevent people from tapering down and eventually quitting nicotine altogether. Kirk had success with this process. After gradually reducing the amount of nicotine in his DIY juice, he’s kicked his habit.
Christine, however, isn’t there yet. Since switching from cigarettes, she’s slowly lowered her home-brewed vape concentration from 12mg of nicotine per mL to 3 mg/mL.
“My plan was to go down to 2.5 mg/mL next, 2 after that, 1.5 after that, and eventually quit, but that would be difficult to do without having my own concentrated nicotine at my disposal.”
Essentially, if the flavor ban leads to a ban on all e-juice ingredients, it would make it harder for people like Christine to quit smoking altogether… unless they opt to buy from underground sources.