Where once hundreds of colorful E-liquid juice bottles lined the shelves, the display cases of the Vape Savvy e-cigarette store in Kirkland are now barren.
The Washington State Board of Health voted to enact a temporary 120-day ban on flavored vape cartridges, otherwise known as e-liquid, at a meeting on Oct. 9.
The result of this ban has left businesses like Vape Savvy and store owners Jason Staifer and James Tores grasping for answers on how to pay for employees and a lease during the four-month ban.
“I started tearing up and looking at him and he’s looking at me and we’re just looking at each other like, ‘What is going on?’” Staifer said. “I haven’t felt broken like that.”
Staifer explains that before the ban their shop would see roughly 30-40 people a day. In the days since the ban Staifer said he’s lucky to see five people.
Staifer estimates about 95 percent of their inventory was flavored e-juice, all of which they had to dispose of to stay in compliance with state law. In order to absorb the loss of inventory, Staifer said he had to let two of his employees go, leaving the two owners as the only people left to man the shop.
Tores said they now sell only unflavored and tobacco-flavored liquids, which normally makes up roughly five percent of their store sales.
“We paid for the product. We paid the same amount if not more with the taxes on it and then a week later they said you can’t sell it?” Tores said. “Essentially we took a double loss.”
According to the Washington Department of Health (DOH), there has been a total of seven reported cases of lung injury associated with e-cigarettes or vapor products in Washington state, but no deaths. Of the seven reported cases, five of them have been younger than 30.
As incidents of vaping-related illnesses and deaths have become a topic of concern in the recent news cycle, Tores pointed out that the majority of those cases have been linked to THC cartridges purchased on the black market. In fact, at the Oct. 9 meeting Gov. Jay Inslee said that there was no evidence at the moment that suggested the flavoring chemistry itself is the reason for the disease, but went on to say it is the wide range of flavoring options that draw children in to take the initial puff. Inslee’s reasoning is that banning flavored e-juice will detour children from smoking and limit the amount of exposure of children turning to the black market for their smoking needs.
The fact that underage kids are being hit harder than adults is another reason health officials are acting so hard and swift. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services states that while cigarette smoking is on the decline, vaping, especially among kids, has grown dramatically in the last five years.
“The problem with the kids is absolutely a problem,” Staifer said “That’s why we moved into this location right here because it’s 21 and older. We don’t want kids in it. You know, I have a teenage daughter.”
Tores feels there has been a disconnect between the news and the facts. The vape industry must comply with state laws and regulations in order to be licensed. And yet, the industry is being demonized by the sale of contaminated products purchased on the black market or online, not at a vape store.
Tores points out that in the two years the store has been open, they have never been cited for selling to a minor and have checked IDs at the door. He points to gas stations as one of the main sources where children are getting e-liquid, not devoted vape shops who want to keep their license.
Looking forward, Tores and Staifer are disappointed by the ban and the two are not blind to what four months of low sales could mean to their budding business. Even so, the pair are determined to keep their doors open and try to weather the storm, no matter how daunting it might be.
“It’s whoever can hold their breath the longest,” Tores said. “Whoever has the most savings, the most money or the least debt accumulated…at the end of the day, you’re asking businesses to stay afloat on five percent of their sales. It’s impossible anywhere you go to do that.”