With vape ban lifted, local shops restock – Sentinel & Enterprise

Days after the Public Health Council lifted a statewide ban on the sale of vape products, local smoke shop employees restocked their shelves. But while local managers are pleased to have customers coming in, some are hesitant to celebrate.

John Blais, a manager at Leominster’s Dragon’s Leyr, which has been in business for two decades, said that the holiday season makes the resurgence of business an unreliable measuring stick for future profitability.

“It’s a time where everybody’s out to spend money,” Blais said. “So we’re seeing an influx of new products plus or minus everybody’s out to spend at this point.”

Blais, like other critics, took issues with several aspects of the way that the ban — and its eventual partial lift — played out. Among the problems he identified were the way that state concerns were framed, particularly with regard to whether vape companies target children by offering flavored juices.

“It’s not being sold to minors,” Blais said. “The problem they have is that it’s concealable.”

In his estimation, he explained, it’s easier to find smoking products on a person. Between the smell and the tools necessary — like a pack of cigarettes and a lighter — it’s harder for underage users to hide. But with vaping, he said, it’s easy to stash a thin dark piece of metal and to mask a simple vapor smell.

And on the other hand, he said, he also took issue with the new vape tax, referencing a 75% excise tax set to go into effect on June 1, 2020.

“When we went to fight it, the emergency ban was in effect,” Blais said. “As soon as it was lifted, it was taxed.”

As for the returning customers, Blais expressed concern about the damage done by the ongoing news cycle regarding the ban, as well as the spread of misinformation.

“When there’s a mass media scare, there’s gonna be some retaliation,” he said. “You know, some people are smart enough to do the research. And some people who believe what comes out of the TV.”

New regulations approved by the Public Health Council last Wednesday marked the end of the governor’s temporary ban on all vape products, which was implemented in September. Under the new law, retail stores cannot sell flavored e-cigarettes, or those with a nicotine content higher than 35 mg/mL.

Lineage Vapors Manager Sean McGonagle looks over his shelves with vape products on them now that the ban is over at the shop in Lunenburg. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that vitamin E acetate, an additive in some vape products containing THC, was identified in all of 29 samples submitted by lung patients with vape and e-cigarette product-associated lung injury.

On Thursday, the Cannabis Control Commission eased a ban on some vape products containing marijuana. Licensed retailers can now sell devices that vaporize marijuana flower, devices that vaporize marijuana concentrate, and vaporizer cartridges that were manufactured beginning Thursday and screened for contaminants like vitamin E acetate.

“As a physician and commissioner of the Department of Public Health, I continue to recommend that people not use any e-cigarette or vaping products. These products are not safe,’’ Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said in a September statement that vape products are marketed in thousands of flavors, which “make them easier to use and more appealing to youth.”

Beginning in June, retail stores will be restricted from selling flavored cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.

Meanwhile, local vape store managers expressed concern about ongoing confusion around the new regulations, both for employees and customers. Sean McGonagle, manager of Lineage Vapors on Summer Street in Lunenburg, said he was unclear, for example, whether they are permitted to sell flavorless juice, or whether, because of how the regulations are worded, they are only permitted to sell tobacco-flavored vape cartridges.

“A lot of people are confused because they know menthol cigarettes aren’t going to be banned until June so they’re coming in expecting to at least buy menthol-flavored liquid or something along those lines and they can’t,” he said.

This confusion comes after stores like Lineage reported nearly shutting down just a month ago.

“We were basically on the verge of having to close our store,” said McGonagle.

And while business has picked up since the ban was lifted, it is not the same. The best-selling products at Lineage Vapors were those with flavor, which are now restricted, McGonagle said.

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