Vape Radio 55: Interview with Tom Schrier, VP of Alchem, Makers of NicSelect Nicotine

By May 15, 2015Podcasts
Vape Radio 55: Interview with Tom Schrier, VP of Alchem, Makers of NicSelect Nicotine

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To listen to the entire show, with show notes, transcripts and comments, visit vapementors.com/vape-radio/

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What you’ll hear today:

To watch the video version on YouTube, visit http://tinyurl.com/vaperadio. Please note, YouTube does not play the pre-recorded audio interviews.

Welcome to VAPE Radio, the voice of the vape space and your source for everything you want to know about the business of vaping. Whether you’re a brick and mortar location, developer of e-liquids or online marketer, you can learn from the first and the largest educational providers in the country with your host and founder of VapeMentors, Norm Bour.

Norm:

Hello everyone and welcome back. This is show number 55. It’s still April and we’ve got a lot to talk about in this wonderful world of vaping. I want to introduce you to some of the major resource partners that we have, so I want to share with you a little bit about Ventury Capital. If you’re looking for money to grow your business or to get new equipment, ramp up your marketing inventory or expand your space, these are the guys that you want to talk with.

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Nick and Ventury recently teamed up with Kevin Harrington, a name you might know as one of the sharks on one of my favorite TV shows, Shark Tank. They do something that few companies in the vape space do; they help fund start-ups as well as expansion and how fast can they move? Well, how’s 24 hours? That quick enough for you? Give them a call at 844-Ventury; that’s century with a V. 844-836-8879. Tell them you heard about them through VAPE Radio and get their latest report on vape shop owners that are doing it right in this growing industry. Go ahead and go to VapeMentors.com/resources and we’re going to go ahead and hook you up.

Today we have a theme. We actually had a theme on the last show and we’re going to have a theme on the next show. Today we’re all about e-liquids because this e-liquid market is growing like crazy. We’ve obviously seen huge, huge growth in the brick and mortar stores that went from about 1500 to 2000 back in 2013 and here it is two years later and we’ve seen probably a 3 to 4-fold increase. We’ve seen a more exponential growth in the world of e-liquids. The challenge is, guys, that a lot of people are not doing it right. They are not doing it in sanitary rooms, and as importantly, they are not doing it with high-quality products.

I have a very special guest in the studio today, his name is Tom Schrier. He’s vice president of business development and sales at Alchem and they are the manufacturers of NicSelect. You might be familiar with NicSelect. I’ve been fortunate to have known Tom for some time. We met last year at ECC and I’m proud to call him a friend and an associate, so Tom, welcome to VAPE Radio.

Tom:

Hey, Norm, thanks for having me.

Norm:

Let’s talk about this mysterious world of nicotine because when people throw stones and criticize the vape space and the e-cigarette market, a lot of times they talk about the distinction between what’s addictive and what’s not. Tobacco is inherently not that bad until you light it but a lot of people think that nicotine is really a very, very bad component. Maybe you as a professional can educate people about what nicotine is and what nicotine is not.

Tom:

Sure, Norm. Nicotine gets a bad rap just exclusively due to its relationship with tobacco; the fact that it is in the tobacco itself. Nicotine itself is not a carcinogen. It’s not on the list of over 70 carcinogens on American Lung Association’s website. It is a stimulant, like caffeine, but other than that it’s not a hazardous product.

Norm:

Most nicotine, I’m guessing, is coming from tobacco, but I understand there’s also several other places that nicotine can come from.

Tom:

There are some other natural sources, vegetables, and you can also manufacture nicotine from chemical synthesis.

Norm:

All right, so let’s talk about the quality of nicotine, Tom, because this is your arena and obviously there’s a big distinction between what makes a good quality and what makes a not so good quality. Would you share with us a little bit about how you know if a nicotine is coming from a good source and whether it’s blended with the purity that it should have?

Tom:

Well, the quality of the nicotine, it’s all going to come down to taste in the finished product. A very pure, very highly processed nicotine will result in minimal flavor addition to the finished juice. Bad nicotine will impart flavor and odor and off notes to finished products, to finished juices. Our material, it’s a pharmaceutical grade material. It’s very ultra-pure. It’s greater than 99.8 percent pure nicotine. You want an ultra-pure material so that you can have the best flavor profile.

There can be other additive we’ve heard rumored in the marketplace that will artificially influence the lack of color in the nicotine. Nicotine itself isn’t actually an oxidated product so if it’s exposed to oxygen it will start to yellow slightly. That’s normal. That’s natural. If you have some nicotine that’s clear, even if you leave it in the sun for two days, then there’s a good chance that there’s probably something in there that shouldn’t be in there that’s keeping it from oxidizing.

Norm:

That’s excellent. It sounds like you shouldn’t really know that there’s something else in there. It’s kind of like there’s a lot of things that you make with a base flavor, whether it be e-liquids or a lot of other things, but you really shouldn’t taste the base flavor. You should really only taste the flavoring that enhances it. Is that a fair comparison?

Tom:

Yeah, I mean, it’s all about the flavor. In these e-juices it’s going to be all about taste and really the only thing that should be coming through is the flavor component itself. The other ingredients are propylene glycol and glycerin, which don’t have any flavor. The nicotine should not be negatively affecting the juice.

Norm:

All right, so one of the things that I’ve noticed from the time I’ve been in this industry, which is about two years, is that people used to have a much, much higher concentration of nicotine in their vaping liquids. It seems like the trend has been dropping. What do you see from both the US market, and if you can speak to the international market I’d love to know that as well, whether this is a US phenomenon or whether we’re seeing it across the board.

Tom:

Yeah, I don’t have too much insight on Europe, but in the United States it’s definitely … The nicotine concentration in the juices are definitely coming down. I think that might have to do with there’s more and more people that are involved with these RDAs and dripping as opposed to the tanks. I’m told that when you’re dripping you can’t go above 6 milligram nicotine concentration in the juice or else it’s just too much.

Norm:

It’s harsh, yeah, yeah. I’ve seen that before. Of course, certain levels of nicotine are better for blowing smoke than others and the same thing with the concentration of PG and VG. It’s really gotten to the point of where this industry has become very scientific, where depending upon how you vape, depending upon what you’re looking for, you really have to develop the formula that works for you. What’s fun and what’s amazing about it is with all the thousands of different manufacturers and probably the multiple thousands of different flavors out there, it truly is a buffet that you can kind of mix and match and find exactly the right combination of nicotine and PG and VG and flavoring and taste that you want until you find just that right flavor.

Tom:

Oh, yeah; absolutely. It’s a combination of flavor and being able to produce more cloud. Consumers are also becoming much more educated in the difference between propylene glycol and glycerin and what they each do and what ratios they’re looking for in their juices.

Norm:

All right, so I’d love to talk about what you see out there in regards to the sanitation requirements of providing a really good high-quality liquid. What I’m referring to is that we used to joke that two years ago or longer people literally made this in their kitchen sink. They made it in their bathroom. Today, there probably are some people that do that, but the reality of it is that they shouldn’t be and a lot of times people claim that they have a clean room but it’s not really a clean room. Can you speak to the fact that the sanitation involved in creating high-quality liquid; what is the cruciality of that, Tom? Is it really very important or is it just something that is nice to have or preferred to have?

Tom:

Well, I think sanitation along with safety along with prevention of oxygen, really. All three kind of go together and when you start with the pure nicotine and go all the way down to the juices, the more you can prevent oxygen from coming into contact with the pure nicotine or the blends or even the finished products, the better of a finished product you’re going to have at the end of the day. Sanitation is going to be critical. White rooms are going to become necessary if they’re not already necessary.

Just like in the food industry or the pharmaceutical industry or the dietary supplement industry, it’s prevention of cross-contamination. It’s prevention of incorporation of foreign matter or bugs or dust or dirt; what have you. It’s going to become more and more important. Right now there’s many brands in the marketplace. What’s going to happen, like in any other marketplace is there’s going to be consolidation of brands. It’s going to be the brands that focus on quality and the brands that focus … That do all the right things that are going to be elevated where all of the others are going to fall by the wayside.

It’ll happen and it’s kind of like a natural selection situation that will happen. The lesser actors will be weeded out or forced out because they’re not going to be producing as high-quality juice as everybody else on the marketplace at some point.

Norm:

I totally concur with you and we’re actually seeing this whole evolution a little bit of Darwinism in action as we speak because there’s a lot of what you would call small manufacturers that are just doing small doses and small batches and they really can’t compete on a larger platform but what used to be an industry that could have been started by amateurs … I’m not going to say by accident but without a lot of forethought, are now being pushed aside by people who are doing this with intention, who are doing this with a lot of money and they’re doing it with a seriousness that I think that this industry demands.

Right now, what kind of regulatory body actually oversees the production of nicotine? Is there anyone that’s kind of monitoring production of such a potentially hazardous material?

Tom:

Oh yeah, nicotine is a pharmaceutical grade product. There is a USP monograph for the product. Our facility is inspected by the FDA. Our facilities in India are inspected by the USFDA on a regular basis. Their testing requirements are in place and must be met as well as the pharmaceutical GMPs are in place and must be met. These are very stringent GMPs, much more than would be required for a food or dietary supplement. Probably more than what’s going to be ultimately required for this industry as well but the nicotine itself …

The nicotine that we sell into this market is the same nicotine that we sell into the pharmaceutical industry for patches or gums, like Nicorette gum.

Norm:

I’d love to talk about the hazardous nature of nicotine because for those of you out there who are listening who think that anyone can get into this and you can start manufacturing your own stuff, I’m going to say that from a very ease of entry standpoint it’s potentially possible, but I’d love, Tom, for you to speak about the hazardous nature of nicotine because it is very caustic. It can be damaging. Can you kind of speak to where some of the caveats might be if you’re handling nicotine products?

Tom:

Yeah, absolutely. The pure nicotine, in the 100 percent form or in the industry they call it the 1000 milligram per ml form, is a toxic product. It is very dangerous if you get this material on your hands or on your skin. It can hurt you badly. It’s critical to have all the proper personal protective equipment in handling of the pure nicotine. Really there’s only certainly people should be working with that material because it is so toxic. Once you make that first blend, once you cut that percentage down from 100, well, below 14 but let’s just say 10 percent, after you make that first 10 percent cut then the danger really goes away. It’s really diminished. The solution to pollution is dilution.

Norm:

Yes, indeed.

Tom:

Once you get down to below 10 percent then you can take it and pretty much anybody can set up a situation, preferably a clean room area, where they can continue to dilute it down even further and add in the flavors and make their finished products. As this market grows I think it’s going to become ultra-critical that the people that handle the pure material are very serious about what they do, are very professional about what they do, follow good manufacturing practices, work in clean room environments, white room environments.

To that end we’ve actually added our own facility where we have a fairly large blend tank in a very controlled environment in a FDA-approved facility and we have a white room where we are doing the blending and we have nitrogen purging on the tanks and it’s a very controlled environment and then we drum it off in these white rooms. Now we can even do bigger volumes to handle the bigger guys as they grow and we can do up to 275 gallon totes.

Norm:

Excellent. Listen, I want to get down to the final minutes here. I’d love for you to maybe share a little bit about the NicSelect story, obviously without going into the entire history, but how did you guys come up with such an amazing company with an amazing product and what, in fact, makes you distinctively better than some of the other nicotine out there on the marketplace?

Tom:

I think what makes us better is that we’ve been at it for five or six years now. Brought into it by the pharmaceutical industry and then this market kind of took over and really grew the volumes exponentially. We’ve been through the mill, so to speak. We’ve been through the problems, we’ve been through the issues in production, the scale up. This is a hard product to work with. It’s a hard product to make. It’s difficult to extract it and purify it from the tobacco leaf. There’s been issues. We’ve gotten over them.

We’ve grown, we’ve increased our capacity and we’ve scaled up and then we worked on packaging and we worked on everything else that goes into it so that by the time somebody gets a bottle of our pure material, it’s perfect. It’s clear, as clear as you can get, it’s sealed with hermetic foil seals and it’s capped. The over packing is amazing and it meets all of the DOT regulations for a class 6 toxic material. We’ve done everything that has been necessary to make a great product. We have reformulated on our side. We’ve added in purification steps and we’ve improved the packaging so that now we have the purest product on the market and we hope the best-tasting product.

Norm:

Well, you know, the truth of the market is that this industry is very dynamic and if you look at how new it is, it’s only a handful of years. We’re going to interview another gentleman shortly who’s been doing this since about 15 years ago, which was very, very early in the game. If you look at how far we’ve come in the last three or four years, we’re obviously a growing industry. Again, on behalf of myself and VAPE Radio we’re very proud to have you on as a guest and to share this information.

Tom, we’re all about education. We really want to empower our audience, whether they’re here in the US or overseas, and we want to make sure that they know that the quality of nicotine is important. We highly respect and endorse what NicSelect is all about and we’re very, very pleased to have you on here as a guest and certainly as a supporter of the show, so thank you for joining us today.

Tom:

Thanks a lot, Norm, I appreciate it.

Norm:

Excellent. All right, so before we go ahead and cut to the break here, I want to remind you that there are some restrictions; there are some liabilities and I want to make sure that you know insurance is something you do need to think about and don’t wait until it’s too late. Business is always risky but protecting yourself from frivolous law suits can be costly and that’s why we teamed up with Calco Insurance.

Since 2009 they have been specializing in our business, the vape space, and 98 percent of all their clients are people just like you. They offer a general liability policy, which includes coverage for manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers. Did you know you can be sued by your customers for illnesses that they claim you caused? Calco can protect you from health hazard threats like cancer, heart disease and pneumonia. SFATA members use Calco, which is how we found them. If you’re opening a vape shop or if you’re paying too much for insurance, contact us here at VAPE radio, we’ll introduce you to their team of pros. Go to VapeMentors.com/resources and we’re going to go ahead and share that information with you.

Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been listening to VAPE Radio, the voice of the vape space and the number one worldwide source for information and business for the vaping community. Stream directly to your phone and tablets. To be part of our growing vape mentors community, head on over to VapeMentors.com to learn more, catch up on our past shows or learn how to grow or start your vape space business. Do not go away, we’re going to be back with our next show shortly.

Author: Norm Bour

Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors and the host of the award-winning podcast Vape Radio. He’s a vape industry coach, speaker, author and can be seen rubbing shoulders with the top influencers in the vape industry.