Vaping Industry Shift: How Local Businesses Cope with Regulations

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BOSTON- Local store owners continue to feel the impact of the 2019 vaping ban and new regulations that restrict some vape product sales.

The Massachusetts Public Health Council Feb. 19 unanimously approved new regulations on vape sales and e-cigarettes in addition to the new laws that had been approved by the legislature late last year.

The new regulations would restrict flavored e-cigarette sales to specialty smoking bars. They would also restrict vaping products with a nicotine concentration higher than 35 milligrams per milliliter to specialty tobacco stores and smoking bars. The regulations also established new identification requirements for tobacco and vape stores to verify the age of customers.

The new regulations are reflective of a law from November that prohibited all retail flavored tobacco product sales. The new laws and the temporary ban on vape sales implemented by Gov. Charlie D. Baker in September had an immediate impact on some local small business owners, some of whom had to turn their business model away from vapes entirely or even sell their store.

No Limits 2, a vape and smoke shop on Southwick Road in Westfield, is one of the stores that has been impacted by the eventful year of vaping regulations. Former owners Ashra Fathima and Afzzal Mohammed had said previously that they would likely be unable to maintain the store that they had purchased less than a year ago.

One month ago, they sold their store. The new owner, a man named Sean who declined to give his last name, said that he hopes he can adapt to the new laws and regulations to remain open.

Sean said that he will continue selling any legal vaping devices he can until any further regulations say otherwise. While he does still sell non-flavored vaping devices in his store, it is no longer the primary product.

“Until they ban these vaping devices as well, we will have them all,” said Sean.

One product No Limits is now focusing on in lieu of vapes is the controversial substance kratom, a substance that comes from a tree and is frequently used as an alternative painkiller to opiates. Kratom is legal to buy and sell in Massachusetts, however, the Food and Drug Administration warns people against using the product if they do not have to.

Southwick’s new Director of Public Health Tammy Spencer said that she hopes these new regulations help fix the problem of high vaping use in the town.

“Our hope is that the new regulations would have a positive effect on public health in Southwick. Given time, we expect to see our vaping issues reduced,” said Spencer.

Westfield Director of Public Health Joseph Rouse and the Board of Health had been trying to implement its own local restrictions on vape sales when Baker’s ban was suddenly put into effect. Rouse had indicated that the Health Department would have liked to see a ban on flavored tobacco and vape sales that would have limited their sales to specialty vape and tobacco stores while removing them from convenience stores.

Rouse said previously that he was unhappy with how the state went about the new vaping laws, and said the Act Modernizing Tobacco Control would be ineffective at curbing youth vaping.

The first offense of a violation of the new regulations comes with a $1,000 fine. In a third offense, the fine is $5,000 and the retailer would be subject to a suspension of their ability to sell tobacco products after the second offense.

“Through the 2019 law and our regulatory process, we will drastically reduce the availability of flavored tobacco products and vape products for sale by local retailers to reduce exposure, access and use of these dangerous products, especially by our youth,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel.

The 75 percent excise tax on tobacco products that was passed in the tobacco control law last year will not go into effect until June.

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