Should e-cigarette devices be sold by high street retailers?
The store chain giant Argos has recently recalled a number of vaping devices from companies such as Smok and Innokin. The devices involved in the recall are what they call 'high performance' vaping kits that include removable 18650 battery cell mods. Argos have stated on their recall page that “It has come to our attention that the battery sold with the above E-cigarettes could cause overheating and result in injury.”
As far as I'm aware there is nothing wrong with the devices and it is only their concerns over the batteries which have caused them to recall the products. As the products are no longer available to buy, I don't know exactly what cells they were supplying with them, but it goes without saying that it's important that suitable battery cells are used in all devices. This situation does raise a lot of questions for me;
- how should vaping devices be sold?
- what types of devices should be sold? and
- where they should be for sale.
Many will argue that Argos should not have been selling vaping devices in the first place. I do understand that position. It's pretty clear to me, when I shop there, that Argos staff know very little about any of the products they are selling and I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that there wouldn't be a vaping or battery specialist in-store to help or advise customers. For a new vaper this clearly isn't the best way to buy a kit. However, as a vaping advocate who wants vaping to be accepted and easily available for all smokers, I want to see products available in places where people regularly go. There are still smokers who would find walking into a specialist vape shop slightly intimidating, and they might feel more comfortable buying from somewhere else.
In my local Sainsbury's there are e-liquids for sale on the aisle near the aspirin and that is a good thing. I want people to be aware of the products and to get the idea of stopping smoking and switching to vaping into their minds. The more 'normal' it appears, the better. The answer isn't to only have vaping devices in specialist shops (although I'm sure many vape shop owners would disagree). The answer is to make devices simpler and safer so anyone can buy them and use them without needing specialist knowledge or having to work out current, draw and which batteries they need to buy.
The Argos recall seems to have been prompted by the fact that none of the big 18650 battery manufacturers (LG, Sony, Samsung) approve their cells to be used in vaping devices. This isn't because there's inherently anything wrong with vaping devices. It's because they manufacture these cells to be used in the sealed battery packs found in laptops, vacuum cleaners, cordless drills etc. They aren't really consumer cells at all, which is why they don't have fancy branding and packaging. A huge multi-billion company like Sony has no interest in vaping, they have very little to gain and potentially a lot to lose if there's any negative reports or accidents involving their batteries. As vapers we have appropriated these cells to use as 'vaping batteries' because they provide the power and run time that we need, but they were never designed to be used this way.
There a few reasons manufacturers would rather sell vape mods without batteries. It's much easier and cheaper to ship vape kits around the world when they don't contain Li-ion cells. It's also cheaper to manufacture them. It moves the responsibility of providing a suitable battery along the supply chain. Is it really acceptable for manufacturers to pass that responsibility onto retailers or consumers? However you feel about that I can't help but think that as vaping becomes more widespread, there will be more regulations imposed and manufacturers will be given very little choice in the matter. I don't think anyone could seriously argue that vaping devices shouldn't be as safe as they can possibly be.
I'm sure in years to come a solution will be found or enforced. A lot of the negative press vaping gets is because of battery issues, either people using unsuitable batteries, mishandling them or just not being aware how different these batteries are to a common AA found around your home. It's very rare that the issue is with the device itself, it's almost always battery related.
I own and use vaping gear with removable batteries every day, I have a good quality external charger and I'm careful with them in use and storage. I know what amps I'm drawing from them at all times and I'm always mindful not to push them anywhere near their limits. I've never had any problems, but I understand why battery manufactures and retailers like Argos would be nervous. I think Argos has done the right thing and I presume they will be only selling internal, sealed battery vaping kits for the foreseeable future.
I feel a bit torn on this subject, I can remember a time when you could walk into any high street shop and the person behind the counter would be extremely knowledgeable about the products they sold, in a lot of cases they would be experts on them, but we no longer live in that world. I've been to vape shops where the staff member wasn't very knowledgeable either, so I'm not totally convinced that only selling vaping gear in vape shops would actually solve all the issues, anyone can set up a vape shop.
Almost everything we buy today falls into the 'plug and play' category. You buy something, take it out of the box and it's ready to go. There's no setting up, no tools required and often no instructions to read. It seems unbelievable to my kids that we used to buy household appliances without a mains plug fitted, you had to buy a plug, wire it correctly and put a suitable fuse in before you could use it. I think a lot of vaping gear is still in that place, you need some knowledge, good instructions, often some tools and maybe some help and advice too. Many of the more advanced kits, mechanical mods, rebuildable atomisers etc. just aren't in that 'plug and play' category that we've all become used to with other products.