Legislators, shop owners voice opposition to tobacco bill


WESTFIELD- Vape shop owners and local legislators voiced their displeasure with the passage of the state’s ban on flavored tobacco product sales.

The Massachusetts State Senate Nov. 20 voted 32-6 in favor of a bill that would ban all tobacco products with added flavors. The House of Representatives had voted 126-31 in favor the week before. As of Friday, Gov. Charlie D. Baker had not yet signed it, but he is expected to do so. Baker has a track record of anti-smoking and vaping regulations. 

State Sen. and Mayor-elect Donald F. Humason Jr. said that he was displeased with the result of the vote, saying that adults should have the right to choose what they consume. State Rep. John C. Velis was one of the 31 ‘no’ votes in the house. He was one of only a few Democrats to oppose the measure in that chamber. 

“I would advise against it. I think it’s a mistake,” said Humason, adding that he sees it as an example of government overreach. 

The bill was marketed as a way to prevent youths from getting their hands on tobacco products, including vapes. The logic used by many supporters was that kids who smoke or vape are likely not going to be interested if there is no flavor, or just a tobacco flavor to the product. 

“You can tell someone fighting overseas in the military that they can now not smoke vanilla pipe tobacco,” said Humason, “I am a rabid anti smoker, but I still think that if you’re 18 and you’re an adult, then you’re smart enough to decide what is beneficial for you.”

He noted that he sees it as a slippery slope of government regulation.

Shop owners in Westfield voiced their displeasure as well. Most owners of vape shops have already had their businesses impacted by Baker’s complete ban on vaping products that began on Sept. 24. That ban was enacted due to reports of mysterious lung illnesses across the country that has been blamed on vaping products. Several such illnesses have been reported in Massachusetts since the ban began.

The CDC recently released a report in which they blamed the illnesses on vitamin E acetate, a substance commonly used in illicit, rather than legal, THC vape cartridges to fill them up more. 

Most of the products seen here at No Limits Vape and Smoke Shop would likely have to be removed from the shelves due to them being flavored. (Photo by Peter Currier)

In addition to the ban on tobacco flavors, the bill came with a 75 percent tax on all e-cigarettes. 

Chris Kasperek, the owner of Ace Vapor on Union Street, said that he does not think any businesses like his can survive with a tax rate that high. In his case, vapes are not his only product or service, but it may negatively impact his business regardless.

“I will likely have to close down the vape portion of my shop,” said Kasperek.

Kasperek noted that the majority of his customers are between the ages of 30 and 70, and 99 percent of his tobacco and vape sales are of flavored products. 

“People just simply like flavors. It’s not just kids having them,” said Kasperek. 

Other store owners said that they too, oppose the bill, but that it may be marginally better than not being able to sell vapes at all, as they currently stand due to Baker’s ban. 

Fathima Ashra, co-owner of No Limits Vape and Smoke Shop said that she would at least prefer a better warning ahead of time than what they were given when the total vape ban was enacted in the state. 

“We would have to get rid of all the flavored products we have,” said Ashra, “We would like at least a couple weeks warning this time to prepare for different product.”

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