Smoke shop, convenience store cigarette and tobacco sales spike

Afzzal Mohammed of No Limits Vape and Smoke Shop, shortly after the Health Department served the ban notice and they began emptying their own shelves. (Photo by Peter Currier)

WESTFIELD- Vape shop and convenience store employees have said that cigarette sales have increased since the onset of the ban on vape sales imposed by Gov. Charlie Baker a month ago.

Owners and employees of these shops have said that their sales of cigarettes, loose tobacco, and chewing tobacco have seen a noticeable increase in sales, and in some cases the sales have nearly doubled. 

One employee at Pleasant Street Market, who did not give their name, said that they previously only sold about 75 cartons of cigarettes a week. After the ban of vape sales started on Sept. 24, they were selling between 100 and 150 cartons of cigarettes a week,

In one Mobile gas station in the city, another employee said that their chewing tobacco sales have gone up sharply in addition to cigarette sales. He said that people had come in saying they had not consumed chewing tobacco in a long time due to switching over to vaping, but that they needed to replace the habit once again. 

At No-Limits Vape and Smoke Shop, Afzzal Mohammed said that he usually order 80 cartons of cigarettes a week, and now he has been ordering 110 cartons to keep up with demand and to stay in business. Unlike the other stores cited, No-Limits is primarily a vape shop that is struggling to remain open now that their main product cannot be on the shelves.

Mohammed said that he thinks about eight out of 10 of his customers have gone back to smoking cigarettes.

“Those who haven’t switched back are just driving down to Connecticut to get their vapes anyway,” said Mohammed. 

The common theme between all three of these stores is that each employee cited customers who said knew that they were making the unhealthy choice, but that they felt it was the only choice as they were blindsided by the ban.

The ban on vape sales was originally implemented because of reports of mysterious lung illnesses and some deaths associated with vaping products. Critics of the ban claim that the illnesses are the result of illicit black market vaping products rather than the legal, regulated products that Baker’s decision removed from the shelves. 

The critics claim that the illnesses are the results of the black market THC vape pens being cut with vitamin E to make it look like their is more product in the container. Vitamin E, when heated up to vaping temperatures, can turn into a sort of acid that would eat away at the lungs. 

Other reasons for the ban included keeping the products out of the hands of the underaged. School administrators in Southwick and health officials in Westfield have previously said that there is a problem with those under 21 getting access to vapes despite the age restrictions. 

Westfield’s Public Health Director Joseph Rouse said that even he was blindsided by the ban, as the Board of Health was in the middle of considering their own local restrictions that would have made vapes only sellable in stores that specialize in such products, rather than gas stations and the like. 

Rouse said late last week that he did not think that the ban would go the full four months, but that there would but far more regulation than there was before if it is lifted permanently.

Mohammed and other specialty store owners said that they would welcome such regulation if it meant that they could get their business back on track and that their products would stay out of the hands of kids.

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