Shop owners believed state regulators might act to curtail vaping but were not expecting to see everything shut down at once.
PLYMOUTH - The local vape industry was blindsided by the ban imposed by Governor Charlie Baker this week. Shop owners believed state regulators might act to curtail vaping but were not expecting to see everything shut down at once.
"It’s a tough day," said Chris Kolacz, owner of Beantown Vapor, located on Samoset Street. "They’ve totally banned vaping, including flavors and devices."
On Tuesday, Baker declared a public health emergency and instituted a four-month ban on sales of all vaping products. The Centers for Disease Control, along with other federal agencies, announced investigation of an outbreak of lung illnesses in several states, including Massachusetts, that are related to e-cigarette, or vaping, products, including devices, liquids, refill pods and cartridges.
"The use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products is exploding and we are seeing reports of serious lung illnesses, particularly in our young people," Baker said in a statement."The purpose of this public health emergency is to temporarily pause all sales of vaping products so that we can work with our medical experts to identify what is making people sick and how to better regulate these products to protect the health of our residents."
The governor’s order prohibits all vaping sales and requires retailers to remove product from shelves so it is not in view of customers. The ban affects all stores with vaping products, including smoke shops, liquor stores, supermarkets and convenience stores.
According to the CDC, more than 800 cases have been reported, and 12 deaths have been confirmed. Most have reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC, while many used THC and nicotine. Some reported using only nicotine. The CDC recommends refraining from using e-cigarettes or vape products.
"We’ll still be in business before, during and after the ban," said Geoff Yalenzezian, COO of Brennan’s Smoke Shop, a chain of tobacco stores throughout Southeastern Massachusetts, with a location in downtown Plymouth. "We’ve been through the ups and downs of the tobacco industry. This is our 19th year and we are still here."
He said vaping represents about 10 percent of sales for his stores, so the impact won’t be severe. However, he said stores that sell only vaping products will be hard hit.
"I feel really bad for all the vape stores," he said. "Many of them won’t last. I hope Gov. Baker lifts the ban soon."
Kolacz said he plans to stay in business, though he won’t be selling any vape products. He does operate another business, an internet technology company, from his store, so it makes sense to remain open. However, he is planning to close a store in Stoughton.
"I have a clause that lets me get out of my lease," he said. "It’s still going to be a huge loss, though. I expect to lose about $100,000."
Marijuana vaping is banned too. Patients who use those products to help with medical conditions now have to find another means of getting relief from their illnesses. Medical marijuana is used to treat numerous diseases, including Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, glaucoma, anxiety, Crohn’s, PTSD and others, as well as easing the effects of cancer drugs.
"We have a number of patients who prefer to vape," said Kevin O’Reilly, COO of Triple M Medical Dispensary in the Plymouth Industrial Park. "It’s one of the quickest ways to get THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, into the bloodstream so they get the treatment they need."
He expects most of those patients will switch to other products, such as lozenges, chews, tinctures, honey sticks and even traditional marijuana cigarettes.
"However, a lot of patients don’t want to smoke," O’Reilly said. "Vaping was seen a safer alternative."
These retailers didn’t believe the ban will be an effective deterrent. In fact, they said it will likely have the opposite effect by driving consumers to the black market or getting them to return to regular cigarettes.
"It’s not going to work," Kolacz said. "People will go to New Hampshire or buy their vape products online. Or they will get them illegally, where they don’t know what’s being put in them. Or they will just go back to smoking."