The temporary prohibition on the sale of vaping products is a fatal blow to local shops that no longer have cash flow with their merchandise boxed up, said Behram Agha, the owner of four Vapor Zone locations in Massachusetts, who is now seeking an injunction to overturn the ban.
“To be closed for four months is a death sentence,” Agha said. “There is rent due, electric bills and the mortgage needs to be paid. Unless some cash flow comes in, I don’t think we can survive more than a few days after the first of the month. I think a lot of stores are in the same position.”
Effective 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 24, Gov. Charlie Baker ordered a four-month ban on all in-store and online sales of vaping products in Massachusetts. The ban — the first of its kind in the country that is set to last until Jan. 25, 2020 — applies to all flavored and unflavored vaping products and devices.
In moving forward with the ban, Baker declared a public health emergency in connection with a spate of vaping-related illnesses and cited the importance of learning more about health risks associated with e-cigarettes.
Since Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel on Sept. 11 mandated that any unexplained vaping-associated pulmonary disease be immediately reported, 61 cases have been reported to the Department of Public Health. The department, in turn, has reported three confirmed cases and two probable cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Baker said.
Agha, who owns Vapor Zone stores at 184 Broadway in Saugus, Danvers, Ipswich and Norton, said he learned on Twitter that the four-month ban on vaping products had taken effect.
“I was shocked and devastated,” Agha said. “I had no clue this was happening.”
With the ban in place, Agha closed all four Vapor Zone locations and notified his 10 employees he could no longer afford to pay them.
These employees — whom, Agha said, he considers more like family — spent this week removing vaping products from the shelves and consoling distraught customers.
Over the last few days, Agha estimated he received nearly 300 calls from upset patrons who have no idea what they’re going to do with vaping product sales now impermissible in Massachusetts — including one from a blind veteran residing in Beverly.
“I feel bad for our customers, E-cigarettes helped them quit smoking,” Agha said.
Agha argued the state ban might push people to the illicit market that is a possible source of lung illnesses experienced by some individuals who vape.
On Thursday, attorney Craig Rourke filed for a preliminary injunction in Suffolk Superior Court on behalf of Agha in an attempt to lift the governor’s four-month ban. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is named as the defendant in the complaint.
Agha took issue with the suddenness of the ban imposed by Baker that was immediately ratified by the Public Health Council. Vape store owners were caught off-guard and had no advance warning to deal with the fallout, he said.
“They should have given us more notice,” Agha said. “Everything I’ve worked for in seven-plus years is gone in an instant.”
Agha has yet to hear if or when the injunction request will be heard, but he is holding out hope a judge will side with him.
“We’ve followed all the rules set by the Board of Health and did the right thing, and we get shut down,” Agha said.