Several Lancaster County vape shops closed three years ago after Pennsylvania enacted a 40% wholesale tax on vaping equipment and supplies.
Among them was King’s Vapor, which shuttered its downtown Lancaster shop but stayed open at its second location at the Manor Shopping Center.
But now, just over a month after signing a three-year lease for a more favorable location at the Lancaster Township shopping center, King’s Vapor owner Nancy Mei is facing the prospect of a federal ban of 90 percent of her store’s selection of flavored liquid for e-cigarettes.
“It doesn’t make sense,” says Mei, who said she’s trying not to think about what she’d actually do if the ban is enacted. “I hope I don’t have to go through that day.”
Bad news for businesses
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said his administration will try to combat a surge in underage vaping by banning thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration said it will develop guidelines to remove from the market all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco.
The ban, which is expected to take effect within months, comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been investigating — and media accounts have widely reported on — a mysterious vaping-related lung disease that has been blamed in six deaths.
For the nearly dozen, mostly independently owned vape shops in Lancaster County, Trump’s proposal could hardly be worse for business.
“Without a doubt we’re shutting our doors if they ban the flavors,” said John Dolan, who owns Smooth Vape shops in Manheim, Lebanon and Harrisburg. “In my opinion, it’s ridiculous.”
Alex Craven, who has managed the Smooth Vape shop in Manheim since it opened a year ago, said he’s bracing to lose a job selling a product he says has been proven to be a healthier alternative to cigarettes.
“It’s scary. People that have gotten their health back because of this are now looking at the possibility that it’s not going to exist anymore. All because of baseless fearmongering,” said Craven, who credits flavored e-cigarettes with helping him kick his own a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoking habit.
For vape shop owners, employees and customers, the negative publicity because of the deaths being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are especially galling since the Food and Drug Administration has reported the deaths have often involved vaped products containing THC, the high-producing ingredient in marijuana.
“It’s not vaporizers causing these issues, it is black market substances,” Craven said.
John Eager works at the Tobacco Super Store and Vapor Lounge, which sells both vaping products as well as cigarettes. He says some customers at the store along Route 30 in East Lampeter Township have been changing their buying habits recently because of news reports on the dangers of vaping.
“This week alone I’ve already had about five people switch from vaping and go back to smoking,” Eager said.
Joaquin Castro, a frequent customers at King’s Vapor in Manor Shopping Center said he would consider stocking up ahead of a ban since he credits flavored vaping with helping him quit smoking after 25 years.
“It’s just misguided,” the 39-year-old Lancaster resident said of the proposed ban of flavored products.
Several other people who vape said a ban would just create an underground market for the flavors.
“Even if they have to make it on their own, they’re going to find it one way or another,” said Thalia Cid, 18, of Lititz.
“Why is this an issue now?” she said.
A clerk at one local vape shop said a ban would just prompt him to go back to making his own flavored e-liquid.
“Back when I was in high school, people were making their own,” he said.