The vaping industry is reacting to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s upcoming ban on flavored e-cigarettes, saying it is misguided and will force many small business owners to close their shops and lay off employees. Some are predicting legal action.
Cuomo, speaking on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show one day after announcing the planned ban, says the flavored e-cigarettes are designed to addict children to nicotine.
“Flavors like bubble gum, cotton candy, Scooby Doo,” Cuomo said. “We have a public health crisis in this nation.”
The governor says teen vaping has increased by 160% in the last couple of years, and 40% of high school seniors say they vape or have vaped.
Vaping products have drawn attention lately due to a lung ailment that has sickened hundreds, around 70 in New York, and killed six people. The outbreak has been linked to black market cannabis THC products laced with vitamin E oil. It has not been linked so far to nicotine vaping products. Vaping store owners in New York, who are primarily small businesses, say they are being unfairly “demonized.”
Mike Kruger’s vaping store, Gotta Vape, is tucked away in a small shopping center in a Schenectady suburb that also contains a beer and soda pop beverage center and a dry cleaners. Its display cases feature an array of nicotine-based vaping products and accessories, some of which resemble miniature high end bottles of liquor or fancy perfume bottles. He says legal vaping is a safer alternative to combustible cigarettes.
Shelves contain rows of flavored options, including mango, watermelon and cotton candy. Kruger, whose preferred flavor is blue raspberry, says the majority of his customers buy the flavored products, because they don’t want to be reminded of the tobacco-based cigarettes that they are trying to keep out of their lives. “The product helped me quit smoking, it helped my family members quit smoking,” said Kruger. “It’s a product that the community needs.”
“We want something that doesn’t remind us of that nasty taste,” he said.
He says he only sells to customers 21 and over, which is the legal age to purchase vaping products in Schenectady County. He says he would obey the laws anyway, but the county also conducts frequent sting operations to make sure vape store owners comply.
Kruger, who is 36 and has run two vaping stores for six years, says if the flavored ban goes into effect, he will likely lose his business. His supplier, a lab in nearby Amsterdam, could also be at risk.
“There’s no doubt that this will put us out of business,” he said. “If we lose 90 to 95% of our sales, that’s just not going to pay the bills.”
Kruger says the vaping industry is considering a lawsuit. He predicts that without the flavors, most of his customers will go back to buying tobacco cigarettes.
“It’s restricting commerce,” Kruger said. “It’s restricting access to a legal product.”
The store’s counter displays a flyer with a picture of Governor Cuomo, urging customers to call his office to voice their opposition to the prohibition.
The governor and state health department officials say vaping nicotine is less dangerous than cigarettes, but studies show it’s far from harmless, and there have been no long-term studies looking at potential health effects. Cuomo has not ruled out banning all vaping products.