Local vape shop owners say no warning of state ban

Chris Kasperek, owner of Ace Vapor on Union St. in Westfield. (Photo by Peter Currier)

WESTFIELD- Local vape store owners voiced their displeasure with Gov. Charlie D. Baker after his announcement Tuesday afternoon declaring a public health emergency that banned the sale of tobacco and marijuana vape products.

The ban is in effect immediately and extends until Jan. 25, 2020 for the time being. In his announcement and accompanying press release, Baker cited the recent spike in what are allegedly vaping related lung illnesses throughout the country and the Commonwealth. 

“The use of e-cigarettes and marijuana vaping products is exploding and we are seeing reports of serious lung illnesses, particularly in our young people,” said Baker. “The purpose of this public health emergency is to temporarily pause all sales of vaping products so that we can work with our medical experts to identify what is making people sick and how to better regulate these products to protect the health of our residents.”

In his statement, Baker said that the Department of Public Health has received reports of 61 cases of lung illnesses in the state, which are believed to have been caused by vaping.

Several vape shops in the area will be affected, and at least temporarily put out of business with little warning. Joe Iarrusso, owner of Vapor House in Southwick, said that he got no warning about the move and he will now need to pull all of his products off his shelves.

“Why don’t they ban cigarettes? It kills 1,300 people a day,” said Iarusso.

He and several other local shop owners said that the recent spike in lung illnesses has been greatly misrepresented by the media and government officials. The shop owners all cited the same cause: Illegal THC vaping cartridges containing vitamin E as a filler. When vitamin E is heated up to vaping temperatures, it effectively turns into an acid, damaging the lungs, according to Iarrusso and Chris Kasperek, owner of Ace Vapor in Westfield. Kasperek said on Tuesday that he would continue to make sales of vape products until someone comes and tells him to stop. 

Both shop owners agreed that this move only benefits big tobacco companies, as they believe many people who began vaping to quit cigarettes will soon return to smoking cigarettes.

“I was a cigarette smoker for 15 years. Me and my wife went to vaping. I don’t know how many years it’s been we’ve touched a cigarette or wanted to.” said Jason St. Mary, a frequent customer of Vapor House, “If we were not able to get these products, I’m telling you nicotine’s addicting, it’s a drug [SIC] and you’re hooked on it. If you can’t get it somewhere in a safer way which it [vaping] is, you’re going to buy cigarettes for $11 a pack.”

Part of the reasoning given by the Baker administration, and earlier the Westfield Board of Health when they were considering a local ban, was that they want to keep nicotine vaping and e-cigarette products out of the hands of teens. 

“Vaping products are marketed and sold in nearly 8,000 flavors that make them easier to use and more appealing to youth,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “Today’s actions include a ban on flavored products, inclusive of mint and menthol, which we know are widely used by young people. It is important that we continue to educate youth and parents about the dangers of vaping.”

Posted outside of several local vape shops as late as Tuesday were signs stating that only those 21 and older could even enter the store. All of the shop owners The Westfield News spoke to have maintained that they check IDs to make sure customers are of age.

During the most recent Westfield Board of Health meeting, several board members did say that at least one vape shop in Westfield had failed multiple “secret shopper” tests where either a customer did not have their ID checked or an obviously fake ID was accepted. 

Kasperek claimed that vaping has been around for decades already, yet these types of lung illnesses had only been reported within the last year.

The ban will be enforced by the local Health Departments across the state. Joseph Rouse, the director of Public Health in Westfield, was not available to comment at press time.

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