CORNING - The area’s local vape shops say they’re facing an uncertain future leading up to New York’s pending ban on flavored e-cigarette liquids, a product that makes up a significant portion of their business.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted an emergency ban on flavored e-cigarette liquid on Sept. 17, which was scheduled to take effect Oct. 4. However, a state appellate court imposed a temporary injunction on that ban following a lawsuit filed by the New York State Vapor Association alleging the ban amounts to executive overreach by the governor.
That injunction is supposed to remain in effect until at least Oct. 18, when the lawsuit’s parties are scheduled to appear again in court. Local vape shops aren’t sure what the future holds beyond that.
“Currently we’re just kind of holding out and trying to see what they do,” said John Havens, manager of Sector 4 Vapes on Bridge Street. “Our response is going to be dictated by what happens when (Oct. 18) rolls around and our injunction ends.”
Ashley Krise, manager of The Vape Flavorium with locations on Market Street in Corning and Chemung Street in Horseheads, said she doesn’t know what the ban will do to the business if it proceeds.
“That’s honestly the question, because I don’t really know what to expect,” she said. “All we can do is stay open and sell the items we’re in compliance to sell at this point.”
If the ban proceeds on Oct. 18, the number of compliant e-liquids in local shops will be drastically reduced to a select few that very few customers buy. At the moment, the ban would prevent the sale of all flavored liquids except tobacco and menthol.
“If the governor gets his way, we’re going to only be able to sell tobacco, maybe menthol [flavors],” said Scott Towner, manager of the Vapor Bar in Bath. Towner said the Vapor Bar currently offers a couple hundred different flavors.
Havens said flavored e-juices are the most popular vaping liquids offered by Sector 4 Vapes, with many customers opting for sweet and candy-like fruit flavors.
“I have 163 unique flavors, and I have two that are just tobacco,” said Havens. “And I’ve had those on the shelf for a while.”
Krise said The Vape Flavorium offers approximately 150 different flavors. With a ban, that number would be whittled down to about eight low-selling flavors.
“Nobody really buys them,” she said.
Krise, Havens and Towner are among vape shop owners and employees statewide who are highly concerned about the threat a possibly flavor ban poses to their businesses. Krise said some consumers are responding to the situation as well.
“Some people are coming in and stocking up [with flavored juice],” she said.
Vaping, once cautiously-recognized by many U.S. healthcare officials and politicians as a safer alternative to smoking that could help adults wean off cigarettes, has taken flak nationwide following a string of about 1,300 reported lung illnesses and about two dozen deaths among vapers in multiple states.
Available evidence suggests the major culprit of those illnesses may be poorly-made and unregulated THC-infused e-liquid products purchased from the black market, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). THC is one of the main psychoactive compounds found in cannabis.
But healthcare organizations and regulatory agencies have yet to pinpoint a definite cause.
The Steuben County Department of Health urged residents to stop vaping in a statement Sept. 12, following a spike in reports of illnesses and deaths.
There has also been a growing concern among healthcare officials nationwide surrounding the growing usage of popular JUUL vaping devices and similar products among teenagers and young adults that predated the current health scare.
While the technology has been embraced as a smoking cessation aid in the United Kingdom and some U.S. researchers and public health experts still contend that vaping has potential as a tool to help adults stop smoking, there’s been a nationwide push among federal and state governments to regulate and ban flavored e-cigarette liquid.
Steuben County Health Director Darlene Smith said New York’s flavored e-liquid ban, should it take effect, is geared toward curbing the rising rate of vaping among teens and young adults. There is worry among healthcare professionals that this demographic is often the target of companies who produce flavored e-cigarette products, she said.
Those products, which come in flavors such as grape and berry and contain variable strengths of nicotine, are more appealing to younger people, according to Smith.
“The concern is that the flavored juices are targeted for youth. Generally adults don’t seek out bubble gum flavors, fruit flavors, those kinds of things,” said Smith. “If [adults are] going to vape, they’re just going to vape. That’s not to say they’re not going to use flavors, but flavored vaping is definitely targeted towards youth.”
If a young person starts vaping, Smith said it’s a difficult habit to quit.
“Once you start vaping, it is highly addictive,” said Smith. “The healthcare community believes that once youth start using the flavored e-cigarettes, that sets them up to be lifelong nicotine addicts.”
On the other hand, Towner said the flavored juices are extremely popular amongst his customers and are fundamental to helping them stop smoking cigarettes. “Every single one” of his customers originally came into his shop looking to quit smoking, he said.
“I have 60 year old customers come in here getting bubble gum flavors. I have 80 year olds coming in here getting the fruity candy flavors. It’s what keeps smokers from going back to smoking cigarettes,” said Towner.
“The flavors are essential to people quitting."
Towner, who said he quit smoking himself five years ago using gummy bear flavored e-juice, said vaping helped many of his customers quit when other smoking cessation options were exhausted.
“My testimonies that come through the door who want to quit, they say ‘I’ve tried the gum, I’ve tried the patches, I’ve tried sucking on [nicotine lozenges] and it’s just not the same. And with every smoker that wants to quit, the two things I’ve noticed as a shop manager is the smokers miss the hand to mouth and inhale/exhale. And that's what vaping gives them,” said Towner. “And when they get a good flavor that tastes really good, and they go to smoke that cigarette, it tastes nasty. And it gets them off it.”
The governor’s ban on flavored e-cigarette liquids is effective for 90 days if and when it is enacted. After that, the ban will require state legislative action to be put in place permanently.