Pandemic-driven shortages hit the vape industry

It’s not just toilet paper any more. Now it’s gotten serious, and experts are seeing a widespread shortage of vaping hardware.

With supply chains being heavily impacted by the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, consumer goods, electronics, automobiles and much more are already in short supply as Chinese factories remain closed and shipping capacity diminishes, with significant delays at all American ports. Since most vaping hardware originates from China, this may lead to at least a temporary shortage of things like vape pen starter kits and other accessories.

Larger retailers and online vendors did not feel the shortage immediately, as they relied on their existing inventory to sustain sales, but that will not last beyond the end of the first quarter. Predictions on when the pandemic will end vary, but it is likely that vaping equipment shortages will start to hit in earnest during the second quarter as retailers and resellers deplete their inventories and face significant delays in new orders.

About 90 percent of all vaping and e-cigarette hardware is produced in the Chinese industrial city of Shenzhen. American resellers who depend on these imports face the same problem many other industries have encountered, and that is, having to deal with a supply chain with very few alternatives where most of the manufacturing is centered in one region.

With most Chinese companies shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government is being cautious about getting the country up and running again. Before any manufacturing facility is allowed to re-open, it must be thoroughly inspected and must receive a permit. Although vaping is a big industry, the government does not see it as a high priority, and instead China is putting their limited resources behind ensuring that heavy industry, automobiles and electronics factories are able to pass the new inspections first.

The shortage is complicated by the fact that the virus outbreak occurred at the same time as Chinese New Year. During that time, most Chinese factories shut down operations for about two weeks so employees can visit their hometowns and families. Most companies anticipate this shutdown and prepare for it, but the added complication of extended shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have made the shortages even more critical.

After the outbreak, China put multiple cities in lockdown in order to isolate the virus and prevent it from spreading further. The move was necessary to protect public health, although it did result in factories shutting down. The government is starting to allow some manufacturing sites to re-open, but even if they are allowed to re-open, there will still be delays as factories gear back up. Then once they are back up and running, they still depend on shipping companies to get the product to the United States, and ocean vessels have canceled countless sailings and products are backed up at ports on both sides of the ocean.

Some manufacturing operations are considering moving their manufacturing to other countries, although that would be only a long-term solution, and it would take several months to ramp up production at a new site, not to mention the complications that a vaping manufacturer would face with getting new permits and hiring the labor necessary to get up to full production.

Fear over contamination has also resulted in panic and misinformation. Vaping hardware, or any goods being shipping from China, are safe. While the virus can remain viable for a few days, the time involved in shipping is at least two to three weeks and any viral contamination would not survive the shipping process.

The prospect of a shortage will affect mostly vaping hardware. Vaping e-liquids and juices are more likely to come from domestic sources, and a shortage of e-liquids is less likely. As the shortage of hardware grows however, consumers should be cautious about bootleg vape pens and cartridges and purchase them only from legitimate retailers.