November 12, 2013

Is On-Site E-Liquid Mixing Acceptable Business?


There’s quite a lot of finger pointing going on in the face of FDA regulation.  Many community members and industry leaders want someone to blame for the fact that e-cigs are on the FDA’s radar.  Others still are not shy about calling out individuals and companies for making the rest of the industry or community look bad.

Electronic cigarette shops will most likely need to up their game as opponents shine a spotlight on them looking for things to complain about.  Often, these issues and mistakes fall on more than an individual shop — they are placed on the industry at large.  So one sale of an e-cig to a minor by a single careless shop clerk turns into “The e-cig industry sells its products to children.”

But even those caught selling their products to minors tend to agree that they shouldn’t have (regardless of the legality of such).  Another issue is a little more hazy — one that some shops are for and others are against.  There are a lot of electronic cigarette shops mixing e-liquid on-site for customers.  A customer requests a particular blend of flavor and nicotine concentration and someone in the shop mixes the liquid right there (sometimes even right in front of the customer).

Now this can be done with care, quality, and professionalism in mind.  The concern, however, is how it looks and how appropriate it actually is to provide this kind of service on site.  Like any issue, this is one with solid arguments on both sides.

The arguments against are mostly fairly obvious.  It appears that most of the individuals performing these mixing duties have no formal training, certification, or education on what is necessary to keep the process clean, accurate, and efficient.  Some have even said they know their mixes by smell.  Even the simplest food preparation jobs usually require a brief training course in food safety.  If the mixing is occurring right in front of the customer, then it seems unlikely the mixer is even washing his or her hands first.

Even assuming that all necessary precautions are taken and quality is ensured, it looks like something that should be more tightly regulated and controlled.  Let us not forget that the liquid they mix does end up in someone’s lungs and that is a place no one wants a contaminated product.  There is also concern that patrons could be getting a good bit more or a good bit less nicotine than they think that they are.

The arguments in support of on-site flavor mixing breakdown on two sides — for the business and for the customer.  Small businesses benefit from the ability to mix their flavors on site because they don’t have to maintain a highly diverse stock of flavors matching all possible nicotine concentration.  The ability to mix on-site affords small businesses a level of flexibility.

On the customer side of things, liquid mixing on-site offers a level of service and support some customers really love.  Whether you’re asking for raspberry chocolate, heavy on the raspberry, or want a mint flavor that kicks your nose in the teeth, e-liquids aren’t the kind of thing that need to be perfect.  Every customer wants something different.

Mixing service is a luxury at the moment.  Without it, special requests, variety, and a distinctly higher level of interaction with the e-cig shop staff goes away.  Let us not forget that e-liquid doesn’t contain the kind of highly active drugs and ingredients that would require precise measurement in mixing.  We don’t require coffee shops to scientifically measure and distribute coffee based on caffeine concentrations.  Why should we with e-cig shops and e-liquid?

Lastly, something many electronic cigarette users have come to realize — e-liquid has a shelf-life.  It don’t turn the way milk or fruit does, but it certainly begins to fall apart, separate, or generally stale after a while.  Again, this means mixing on-site offers a better product (something fresh that hasn’t been sitting on a shelf for weeks).

Regardless of what happens, many shops will still likely need to review their cleanliness and quality processes.  If nothing else, mixing in a back room looks a little more official than doing it in front of customers.

What do you think?  Should shops be allowed to mix on-site and in front of customers?
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