After Gov. Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency Tuesday that issued a statewide ban of all vape-related products until January of next year, area vape shops have closed, with owners and employees noting that their businesses may not survive the four-month ban period.
RAYNHAM — As customers trickled into the E-Cig Barn in Raynham Wednesday morning, employees were on edge.
They were waiting for local health officials to come in and shut them down, they said, after Gov. Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency Tuesday and banned the sale of all vape products in stores and online statewide for a four-month period.We can deliver news just like this directly to your inbox. You can sign up for This Just In (a daily 7:30 p.m. newsletter with items we've posted that day), News Alerts (so you don't miss anything important) and more. It's customized to your preferences -- and it'll only take a few seconds.
“These are small businesses and there’s no way they can just sit stagnant making no sales for four months and cover the overhead that comes with that ... and reopen in four months,” said Megan Simpson, one of the associates at the store Wednesday. “There’s absolutely no way. They know that it’s a death sentence.”
It’s a death sentence, she said, for the entire industry.
One by one, stores around the Brockton area have shuttered their doors as health agents made their rounds Wednesday with official documentation supplied by the state ordering businesses to cease sales, stop displaying vape products and to remove the products entirely from their shelves.
Many area shops have taken to their websites and social media to voice their displeasure about the ban, such as Vapeology with two locations in West Bridgewater and Taunton. A banner on their website reads “CLOSING DOWN AT MIDNIGHT EST. DUE TO GOVERNOR BAKER DO NOT VOTE FOR HIM!”
On Tuesday evening, after the ban was announced, Ron O’Connor, director of the Office of Local and Regional Health within the Massachusetts Department of Health, reached out over email to local health agencies. The email included documents pertaining to the ban and local enforcement efforts, including a "guidance document" that instructed local health agents to perform checks of local establishments, issue cease and desist orders if retailers continued to sell vape-related products and to continue with spot checks.
“The growing multistate outbreak of severe lung disease associated with vaping and the epidemic facing youth use of e-cigarettes has led to this necessary and important action,” the email read.
The guidance document also noted that “additional guidance for enforcement, including fines, will be forthcoming.”
“It was pretty drastic,” said West Bridgewater Health Agent Robert Casper, who made the rounds delivering the documentation from the state to businesses Wednesday. “I thought they were going to get more of a timeline, like let’s say Oct. 1, so they could at least sell some of their inventory and not be stuck with hundreds to thousands of dollars worth of merchandise."
Brockton Executive Health Officer Amy Badger said city enforcement agents have also delivered notices to businesses and noted that executives from Juul, one of the larger vape companies in the U.S., have already come to the city to remove products from stores.
The two vape shops in East Bridgewater were caught off guard by the ban, said East Bridgewater Health Agent Robert Philbrick.
“There was no sort of notification,” he said. “They both had long lines last night up until midnight when people found out about the ban. They did good business yesterday, but they’re concerned about what the future holds.”
Jason Miller, owner of Vape Solutions in East Bridgewater, said the legal vaping industry is being blamed for black market dealers who sell illegal THC cartridges, which he cited as the reason people were getting sick. During the ban, he said that they’ll continue to sell glass products, but that he doesn’t think they’ll be able to wait out the four-month period.
“We’re scared right now,” he said. “It’s all too sudden and we don’t know how to respond just yet.”
Like Miller, Josh Soucy, general manager of Grand Slam Vape in Bridgewater, also pointed to illegal THC cartridges as the reason behind the vaping-related illnesses that sparked the ban. The ban will force people back to smoking cigarettes, he said, and also bolster a black market for vaping products.
That sentiment was echoed by Cannabis Control Commission member Shaleen Title, who said during an interview on WGBH's "Morning Edition" Wednesday that Baker's ban on vape products could push people to get vape products from illegal sellers where the lung illnesses may have originated in the first place.
The ban is not only unfair to businesses legally selling vape-related products, Miller said, but to adults who use vaping to quit smoking tobacco products, which was echoed by Simpson.
"People who want to quit smoking and people who need something else to get away from smoking, that option is now being taken away from them," Simpson said. "... I've seen hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people that have come in and said, 'I've tried Chantix. I've tried the gum. I've tried the patch. None of it works. The only reason this works is because I still feel like I can be doing the thing I want to do.'"
Soucy noted that he's seen dozens of customers come in with a two-packs-a-day smoking habit to not coming in at all within six months because they finally quit, which he said has been the ultimate goal.
"Seven years worth of that and then it ends in one day," he said.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report. Staff writer Corlyn Voorhees can be reached at email@example.com.