Get news updates and more -- sign up for our newsletter at chelmsford.wickedlocal.com, westford.wickedlocal.com, and littleton.wickedlocal.com.

WESTFORD -- At Westford Smoke Shop, customers stop in for cigars and other tobacco products and supplies.

But as of Sept. 24, they can no longer buy any items associated with vaping -- an estimated 25 percent of the store's business.

 

'A big shock'

"We had to pull everything off the shelf. We weren't even given any time," said store associate Patrick Fantasia, of Chelmsford. "So, when they came out with the ban, we had to act right away. It's a big shock."

Gov. Charlie Baker's four-month vaping ban is drawing mixed reviews, with those in favor saying vaping poses hazards, especially for young people, due to the confectionary-like flavors, and bright packaging colors.

For those who sell vaping products, however, the change came without notice, and there are fears for small businesses.

The Westford Smoke Shop opened last November, said Fantasia. "I know a lot of people, small businesses, that are kind of outraged. For a lot of stores, this is their only business."

Fantasia said Westford Smoke Shope abides by all rules against selling tobacco products to underage customers. "We are a 21-plus store," Fantasia said. "We ID everyone." If a customer 21 or older comes in the store with someone under 21, Fantasia that the person under 21 has to wait outside the store.

Health fears

Baker received praise, criticism and even threats following his issue of the four-month ban on all vaping products, including online sales as well as physical retail establishments.

"Once we had met with all the medical experts, to do nothing was just not a viable option," Baker told reporters at a gathering Sept. 26 in Everett.

On Sept. 24, Baker announced that he would ban all flavored and non-flavored vaping products for four months while the medical community and federal health inspectors try to determine what has caused a spate of severe vape-related lung disease.

The ban, which was approved by the Public Health Council, made Massachusetts the first state in the country to include tobacco-flavored vaping products and both medical and non-medical marijuana in a ban on retail sales.

While many state doctors and medical groups cheered the move, the vaping industry and others have asserted that the ban will encourage the growth of a black market and the sale of counterfeit products whose ingredients are unknown.

'Flimsy evidence'

Asked about concerns that the ban might foster a black market, Baker did not acknowledge a difference in the threat to public health between illicit and legal vaping products.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has said that it does "not yet know the specific cause of these lung injuries," and whether they're definitively linked to illicit or legally sold products.

"Gov. Baker is not a king. He was elected to sign or veto laws, not unilaterally ban consumer products based on flimsy evidence," said Gregory Conley, president of American Vaping Association, a non-profit whose mission says it advocates for responsible vaping regulation.

Conley told the News Service he anticipates a legal challenge to be filed "in the coming days," and Baker said he was prepared for that possibility.

For medical marijuana users who use vaping devices as their primary tool to ingest THC and are not allowed to smoke marijuana flower where they live, Baker said there are "many alternative uses available to people."

Policies in place

Cities and towns responded to the four-month ban with announcements to all businesses that sell vaping products.

Sue Rosa, public health director for the town of Chelmsford, and a registered nurse, said, "After we got the info...we came up with a letter to all our establishments in town, that if they sell any kind of vaping products, they must remove them immediately."

Rosa said the letter went to the 24 businesses in town with tobacco permits.

The School Committee voted last year to add vaping provisions to the school district's policy against tobacco on school property.

Jeffrey Stephens, health director for the town of Westford, said, "Almost every district does not allow vaping, and follows the same rules as for smoking," Stephens said. "Westford does have a tobacco policy, and two years ago, it was updated to include vaping devices in our definitions."

A report from State House News Service contributed to this article.

What other news should we report on? Share your thoughts in our reader's survey, at chelmsford.wickedlocal.com, westford.wickedlocal.com and littleton.wickedlocal.com.