Product Managers Play Fast & Loose With What Is And Is Not Legal

Some vaping products have been banned, but are there ways around this?
Some vaping products have been banned, but are there ways around this?
Image Credit: kthtrnr

Ah, but to be the product manager for a vaping product. I mean these things have taken off like a rocket: they came out of nowhere and all of sudden we saw people everywhere engulfed in a cloud of smoke as they decided to vape instead of smoke cigarettes. However, the U.S. government became concerned when studies showed that vaping was attracting children and more kids were starting to vape – just like they had started to smoke cigarettes at too young of an age. The FDA stepped in and banded the sales of some of the most popular vaping product. However, some product managers have now found a way around those limitations. Have they gone too far?

So Do You Want To Vape?

The U.S. FDA stepped in a while ago and banned the sale of fruit flavored vape flavors. However, if you fancy a watermelon, mango or lemon-ice flavored vape you then you are in luck. They are currently being sold online by Puff Bar, a brand that last year was ordered to take its e-cigarettes off the U.S. market. When the ban went into effect, the Food and Drug Administration told the e-cigarette maker to stop selling its fruity, disposable vaporizers, as part of a crackdown on underage vaping. The product managers resumed sales on their website last month and introduced a change that may allow it to sidestep the FDA: the product managers are saying that they have changed their product development definition and are now using nicotine that isn’t derived from tobacco.

Can they do this? Right now the FDA, which regulates tobacco products and smoking-cessation devices like nicotine gum, is saying that they are aware of Puff Bar’s move. Just exactly who the product managers are who are making these decisions is unclear. The brand used to be owned by Cool Clouds Distribution Inc., a California company. However it was sold it last year to a Chinese manufacturer, DS Technology Licensing LLC, because of FDA scrutiny and criticism that the vaporizers were attracting young people.

What makes the Puff Bar vaping products so successful? The Puff Bar has a sleek, USB-drive shape similar to the market-leading e-cigarette, Juul. However, a key difference is that Juul’s device uses refill pods and Puff Bar is designed for one-time use. The Puff Bar vaporizers come in more than a dozen flavors and cost between $9 and $15 on the brand’s website. Each of the devices deliver between 200 and 800 puffs each, depending on the size. Puff Bar’s sales surged early last year when federal restrictions took sweet and fruity e-cigarette refill pods like Juul’s off the market. Since Puff Bar devices couldn’t be refilled, the FDA’s initial flavor restrictions didn’t apply to them.

Product Managers Play Games With The Law

Puff Bar product managers have to be aware that underage vaping dropped after restrictions were implemented, but disposable e-cigarette use among children and teens jumped. A challenge that these product managers are facing is that 26.5% of high-school e-cigarette users said they used disposable e-cigarettes, up from 2.4% the year before. Unfortunately, the most popular e-cigarette flavor type among those students was fruit.

One of the challenges that the Puff Bar product managers are facing is that anti-tobacco groups and lawmakers last year called for a ban on Puff Bar, which had become the leading disposable brand. To deal with this, Puff Bar said it was voluntarily stopping its U.S. sales. To complicate things, eventually the FDA formally ordered the company to halt its sales. In a letter to the Puff Bar product managers, the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products said Puff Bar products hadn’t been authorized for sale by the agency and that the company had made unauthorized claims on its website that its vaporizers were less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

The Puff Bar product managers stopped selling vaporizers on their website, but retail-store sales of Puff Bar continued. The brand’s sales have plummeted this year as a result of improved compliance with the FDA’s order. Making things tougher for the product managers, Puff Bar has fallen to No. 3 in the disposable category, after Bidi Stick and Blu. Puff Bar’s retail-store sales totaled $168 million last year which would look good on anyone’s product manager resume. Puff Bar product managers sent an email to customers last month said it had upgraded its vaporizers and they now contained “tobacco-free nicotine.” The health claims cited by the FDA last July have been removed from the brand’s website, where online sales have resumed. Puff Bar’s website now includes words that say that its products “contain nicotine but do not contain tobacco or anything derived from tobacco.” It also adds that they “are not intended for use with any tobacco product or any component or part of a tobacco product.”

What All Of This Means For You

The FDA has come down hard on vape product managers. The increased usage of vaping products among young users has caused the government a great deal of concern. In order to prevent vaping products from falling into the hands of underage smokers, the FDA has banned all fruit flavors of vaping product. However, the product managers at Puff Bar have looked at their product manager job description and think that they may have found a way around these restrictions.

The Puff Bar product managers are selling fruity, disposable vaporizers. The FDA told them to stop selling their fruity flavors along with everyone else. The Puff Bar product managers think that they have found a way around the FDAs restrictions. The product managers are saying that they are using nicotine that isn’t derived from tobacco. One of the reasons that the Puff Bar products are so successful is because the Puff Bar has a sleek, USB-drive shape. The Puff Bar product managers originally stopped selling their product via their web site. However, with the new non-tobacco nicotine they have once again brought all of their flavors back.

The Puff Bar product managers are playing with fire. They may think that they have found a way around the FDAs restrictions, but this may turn out to be short lived. All the FDA has to do is to get the rest of the government to permit them to regulate nicotine in all of its forms and they can once again ban Puff Bar’s products. A smart approach would be for the Puff Bar product managers to sit down and create a plan with the FDA that would limit the access to their product by underage smokers.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How do you think the Puff Bar product managers could limit access to their product by underage smokers?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Who wouldn’t want to be the product manager for a hugely popular mobile video game? The Candy Crush Sage product managers have had an amazing run for the past eight years as their product burst upon the scene and then just continued to grow in popularity. However, it’s been a really long time, when measured in video game years, and they still seem to be very popular. What is the secret to success for these product managers?