WORCESTER – The emergency ban on nicotine vaping products is set to expire on Wednesday. State health regulators are due to issue new restrictions that same day.
Governor Charlie Baker issued a four-month emergency order on September 25, 2019, banning the sale of all vaporizer products for both nicotine and THC.
The ban was in response to a respiratory illness outbreak that killed 48 individuals nationwide. Three of those deaths were in Massachusetts.
Baker’s emergency order shut down businesses that employed 2.500 people as part of a $331 million industry in Massachusetts according to the American Vapor Association.
Many of the store owners ThisWeekinWorcester.com (TWIW) spoke with intended to open when the emergency ban was lifted and continued to pay rent and other bills.
The Center for Disease Control [CDC] announced on November 8 that vitamin E acetate was found in all 29 samples of lung fluid submitted for testing. Vitamin E acetate is not used in nicotine vaping products.
Despite the scientific evidence indicating that THC products were the cause of vaping related illness, Baker didn’t act until 17 days later, on Nov. 25, when he announced the emergency ban would be lifted on Wednesday, Dec. 11.
On Nov. 27, Baker signed a bill passed by the legislature that institutes a ban on flavored vaping products immediately and applied a 75% tax to remaining products. The law also bans flavored tobacco products, like menthol cigarettes, effective June 2020.
The most prominent reason cited for the new law was the increase in young people using e-cigarettes.
Ban Puts Local Vape Stores Out of Business
Societe Caponette opened Worcester Vapor in 2013 in Kelley Square and later moved to West Boylston St. She estimated a loss of $100,000 in stock in inventory when forced to close on Sept. 25.
After the new law was signed by Baker on Nov 27, Worcester Vapor permanently closed after six years in business.
Sutton based Vapor’s Paradise owner Marc O’Connor told TWIW his store had some 300 different products on the shelf prior to Sept. 25. Of those, two will be legal to sell. He estimated the value of stock on hand on when forced to close on Sept. 25 to be $40,000.
Vapor’s Paradise will remain open and is transitioning by adding new products including pipes and other accessories for tobacco and marijuana.
As reported by Spectrum News 1, Mad Vapes on Grafton St. in Worcester also shut its doors late last month after several years of being in business.
Despite the concern about kids in vape shops, each of these stores were inspected yearly according to Food and Drug Administration [FDA] records. All nine inspections of the three stores combined included a minor attempting to purchase age prohibited products.
The stores passed all nine inspections.
Juul Positioned to Thrive In Massachusetts
The FDA has cited surveys of students in 2018 that indicate that the use of e-cigarettes rose sharply in 2018. Twenty-seven percent of high schools students and 10% of middle school students said they had used an e-cigarette at least once over the previous 30 days.
In the CDC’s 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 22% of young people using e-cigarettes claimed the availability of flavors as a reason they use the product, down from 31% in 2016. 56% claimed curiosity as a reason.
Fifty-nine percent of high-school students who reported using an e-cigarette over the last 30 days reported using the same brand, Juul.
Juul increased its national market share in 2018 to 76% while the number of underage users was sharply rising. It has faced criticism and accepted some culpability for marketing directly to those under the legal age.
Altria, the parent company of Phillip Morris USA, owns 35% of Juul.
Juul offers two nicotine levels in their products. From its launch in 2015 until Sept. 2018, it only offered one strength: 59 milligrams per milliliter (mg/ml). In 2018, it rolled out its second strength level called Juul 3%. It delivers its users 35 mg/ml.
The new Massachusetts law set a limit of 35 mg/ml of nicotine that products sold outside of tobacco shops can deliver. Once the emergency ban is lifted, expected Wednesday, Juul is likely to be available in most places cigarettes are sold.
Of the five specialty vapor shops that TWIW spoke to, each reported their best selling nicotine strength at 3 mg/ml, some 91% less than Juul’s lowest nicotine level available.
Three of those shops are going out of business. The other two are transitioning to other products.
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