WESTFIELD- The Board of Health met Wednesday for the first time since the statewide ban on vape sales was announced by Gov. Charlie Baker. Board members discussed the ban and how the stores selling vape products in the city reacted to enforcement.
The board had been discussing the possibility of imposing a local restriction on vape sales when Baker’s announcement came without warning. Baker declared a public health emergency effective until Jan. 25.
Public Health Director Joseph Rouse said that he and other health department employees had to go to 47 stores the following day to ensure that the vaping products were being removed from the shelves.
“With all of those places, the levels of voluntary compliance we got from them was really staggering and I applaud them for being ahead of it,” said Rouse, “Some of them had the stuff off and completely gone before we even got there.”
Rouse lamented that many of the store owners were not prepared for such a hit to their business. In fact, Rouse said that many of them were expecting a boom to their businesses. The Board of Health was strongly considering a restriction of vape sales in the city so that they are only sold in designated “adult only” stores that sell vaping and smoking products.
The local regulation would have made stores like No-Limits, Gorilla Vapes, and other specialty stores in Westfield the sole providers of vape products. It would only have been removed from the shelves of convenience stores and other businesses that do not specialize in such products.
“They went from total feast to famine,” said Rouse.“The vape shops and the smoke shops were going to inherit all the vaping business and now they have nothing.”
Gorilla Vapes has had to close its doors during the ban. No-Limits remains open, as they sell smoking accessories and tobacco, but the owners said their business has plummeted 80 to 90 percent. They do not believe their store will survive the four-month ban.
Rouse did say that information was coming out every day that indicates to him that “something” may happen with the ban before the four month period is over.
“To those vape shops, I would say ‘try and hang in there,’ because when this all comes out I think the end result is going to be is what these really good vape shops want is to have good, reputable products in their stores that they only sell to adults primarily as smoking cessation.” said Rouse. He added that, in the event that the ban is lifted, there will surely be more regulations in regards to vape sales.
He believes it will result in vapes only being allowed to be sold in adult only shops statewide, similar to the plan his department had been floating.
Baker’s ban was in response to mysterious lung illnesses that had been reported throughout the country only in the last year. While the illnesses have been blamed on vaping, critics of the ban say that it is the result of illegal black market vaping products cut with vitamin E, which apparently turns to an acid of sorts when it hits vaping temperatures.
Federal Judge Indira Talwani struck down a restraining order on the ban late last week, but said that a preliminary injunction is still on the table pending an Oct. 15 hearing.