New York vape ban: Local businesses suffer as experts warn against blowback from hasty regulation

Governor Andrew Cuomo and state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker urged New Yorkers to stop vaping putting many businesses at risk of bankruptcy

                            New York vape ban: Local businesses suffer as experts warn against blowback from hasty regulation
(Getty Images)

Panic and a state of confusion has set in among vape users after New York banned flavored e-cigarettes last week. Many now attempting to stock up on these products due to the uncertainty of their availability in the near future.

The state became the first to implement the ban with the exception of tobacco and menthol-flavored products, following which vape shops like Bad Drips Labs are now planning on exiting the state. 

This executive action has had an immediate effect on businesses and consumers and the shops are struggling to meet the sudden demand, said Vape NY, which has been in the business for more than a decade. "Consumers are panicking. They are trying to buy in bulk, which many stores are refusing in order to maintain stock for all of their customers," said Spike Babaian, owner of the store. 

Chain reaction

As for vape vendors, they are no longer offering credit to business owners and businesses for fear they won't be able to pay them if they are out of business in two weeks, leading many vendors out of inventory. Store owners have also stopped buying any new products because they expect to be shut in another two weeks after the grace period ends on the ban.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo and state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker urged New Yorkers to stop vaping, the business has been excruciatingly slow, she said and it is people like them who are suffering. 

"Business owners have to make a choice between paying the quarterly sales tax due this week or delay paying it and pay their mortgage on their homes. Vapor and tobacco licenses are not being renewed with the state and local municipalities because business owners don't know if they will need them," she said.

As for their employees, they're scrambling for jobs leaving only the owners to tend to the shops, she said. Babaian is also a board member with the New York State Vapor Association.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 25: E-Cigarette vaporizer components and products are displayed at Smoke and Gift Shop on June 25, 2019 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously, 11-0, to be the first city in the United States to ban e-cigarettes, nicotine pods and devices that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


Devastating immediate effects

In the long run, these small business owners may have to pay bills with no jobs or business. "They need to consider how to feed their families. They may lose their cars if they have loans they cannot pay. We expect many do not have clauses in their leases that will prevent them from being sued by their landlords for not completing their leases so they will likely end up in court," she said.

A number of landlords have already refused to renew leases for vape shop owners based on the new law. If they’re caught with any flavored e-liquids, retailers will be fined $2,000 per unit.

According to an estimate, there are 700 independent vape shops across the state and they employ nearly 4,000 people. 

Ban ineffective among younger demographic

The simple reason why is because kids know how to use the internet, she says. They will continue to use illegal flavored products brought in from out of state and ordered online, she predicts but it will be the older generation who won't be able to access vapes. "Children know how to use the internet. 70-year-old grandparents who vape legally don't all know how to do that," she said.

While this ban has left some former smokers to go back to cigarettes because they are certain of its availability, one of Babaian's customers is gearing up to move to Florida so they don't fall back to the habit they've worked on kicking. "We expect the smoking rate among youth and adults to go up quickly in New York. We expect the State of New York to blame vaping for the increase in youth use that will be caused by removing vaping as an alternative," she said. 

This ban will probably cause a decrease in the use of flavored nicotine vapor products, she says but with smoking tobacco, CBD and THC products easily available in comparison, there's a possibility they will make a transition there. With most youth not vaping for the flavor but the nicotine, it will be a public health disaster, she says. 

Juul Labs Inc. which is the most popular e-cigarette in the United States also predicts a similar situation. "Full prohibition will drive former adult smokers who successfully switched to vapor products back to deadly cigarettes, deny the opportunity to switch for current adult smokers and create a thriving black market instead of addressing the actual causes of underage access and use," said Austin Finan, Senior Director of Communications at Juul.  

Safer than normal cigarettes?

According to an American Lung Association study, e-cigarettes are not safe but the American Cancer Society believes that they are much safer than normal cigarettes. The medical community has been at two different ends on the topic with some saying that the panic around vapes is making the world lose out on the biggest public health opportunity to get rid of cigarettes and replace them with a safer alternative to nicotine. 

According to the Center for Disease Control so far 530 cases of lung injury associated with vaping products have been reported in 38 states. Seven deaths have been confirmed in six states, according to the release and all reported cases have a history of e-cigarette product use or vaping products, some that contained THC while others that had nicotine.

The specific cause is still not determined.

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