Washington business owners feeling the effects of flavored vape juice ban

Washington State’s new ban on flavored vape and THC e-liquid products went into effect Oct. 10 and has already had severe consequences for many small businesses. Sales are at an all-time low. Shelves are empty everywhere and some specialty vape shops have already closed their doors.

The driving point behind this aggressive anti-vaping campaign was to reduce teenage tobacco and nicotine use. A measure had already been passed that raised the age restriction to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age. This would have gone into effect in 2020, but recent reports of vaping-related illnesses in the media have made the issue more urgent.

At the state’s Board of Health meeting where the vote took place, a concern was addressed that the ban is targeting the wrong end of the market. Most minors don’t buy tobacco products from specialty vape stores because they can’t get in the door. For the most part, teens buy Juuls and other products from gas stations and convenience stores. Small businesses were the ones heavily affected by newly levied taxes and are now being forced out of business by the ban.

Nine days before the ban went into effect, Washington State passed a new floor tax bill on the stock of products in stores. Vape shops and other small businesses had to pay based on their inventory at the time. Then, the emergency ban was enforced and stores had to liquidate their entire stock, coming in at a loss. All unsold inventory was returned to the distributors, who are taking their business to other states.

Being reduced to just one flavor has driven sales down by about 70 percent, says one local vape shop owner, starting the first day of the ban, “I can’t afford to stay in business anymore.” Rain City Vape has been operating in Bellevue for five years, and is now waiting for its employees to find new jobs before it shuts down. The same thing is happening to countless other stores in the state.

By disallowing the existing regulated products, the ban will likely lead to an increase in “black market” and homemade flavored vape juice. There’s already a barrage of YouTube tutorials for DIY vape juice, with most of the ingredients available at any grocery store. The danger posed by these unregulated juices is concerning—inhaling contaminated substances is exceptionally more dangerous than the previously approved products. Additionally, the state doesn’t get to collect taxes on these items, which would have gone towards funding for cancer research and anti-tobacco awareness campaigns.

While vapes and e-cigs may have been a gateway to smoking cigarettes for minors, they offered a healthier alternative to adults who were trying to quit. Nicotine is not healthy in any form, but vapes come without the toxins and carcinogens found in cigarettes and can be much more effective than nicotine gum or patches in helping to quit. Many of these adults, without the flavored alternative, have already returned to cigarettes.

Although the intention of the ban was to decrease underage nicotine use, the vacuum created by eliminating part of the market is going to pave the way for alternative usage. The people most hurt by the ban are adults who have a legitimate reason to vape and the small businesses that cater to them. If the problem is tobacco use, why not eliminate tobacco altogether? According to Rain City Vape, “It’s just a new kind of Prohibition. It’s not going to work, history has shown that.”

The ban will be in effect for 120 days. Gov. Jay Inslee has announced that he wants to make it permanent. The age restriction change will be implemented in Jan 2020, affecting cigarette sales as well.