Vaping was once believed to be a safer alternative to smoking, but after hundreds of illnesses and dozens of deaths, including one in Connecticut, some are concerned that it may not be safe at all. That concern is changing the way both big corporations and local smoke shops do business.
The writing is on the window at All Things Vape in Newington, which shut its doors five weeks ago.
“Unfortunately, people are scared,” said Andrew O’Bright, president of Connecticut’s Smoke Free Alternative Trade Association or SFATA.
He blamed black market THC e-joints which are now being investigated as the potential cause of the lung injury outbreak that has spread to every state but Alaska. So far, three dozen people have died and about 1,500 vape users have suffered lung injuries.
The outbreak has also put approved vaping products under the microscope.
O’Bright said upwards of 50 percent of vape users in SFATA’s retail stores have gone back to regular cigarettes or kicked the habit altogether.
“Stopping is good. Returning to smoke is going to kill them,” said O’Bright.
With fewer toxic ingredients and the ability to control the amount of nicotine you’re inhaling, vaping was once seen as a safer alternative to smoking. According to the World Health Organization, eight million tobacco users die every year.
The recent rash of deaths and lung injuries has changed public perception.
“It’s been about a semi-weekly basis that a shop is closing,” said O’Bright.
He estimated that 25 percent of the 200 vape shops in Connecticut at the beginning of 2019 have shut their door.
“There’s going to be three more shops in the area closing in November, and that’s really concerning,” O’Bright added.
The CDC now says the common denominator in most cases was THC, an ingredient in marijuana, bought off the black market. However, traditional vaping products aren’t off the hook. As research into what is causing the injuries continues, the CDC is recommending people refrain from using all vaping products.
Our neighbors to the north in Massachusetts have put a moratorium on the sale of all vaping products. But, marijuana is still legal there.
“This patchwork quilt of regulations makes no sense at all,” said Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) at a meeting of northeastern governors on Thursday.
The group met to work on regulating both industries.
“My state of Connecticut, people cross the border they drive up to Massachusetts where they can buy some cannabis and bring it back and that makes a real problem for our state police. They’ve got folks from Massachusetts over the age of 21 coming down and buying vaping products,” said Lamont.
He said if black market sales of dangerous vaping products aren’t curtailed, the vaping industry in Connecticut may go up in smoke.
“Drug dealers are ruining a life-saving industry,” said O’Bright. “It doesn’t look good.”
Also on Thursday, nicotine pod maker JUUL Labs announced that it’s suspending the sale of all of its fruit-flavored cartridges, which have been blamed on getting kids hooked on vaping.
“Given the lack of trust in our industry, we believe the FDA’s PMTA process and its “appropriate for the protection of the public health” standard are the best ways to assess the role these products can play in helping adult smokers move away from combustible cigarettes while also being kept out of the hands of youth,” said CEO , K.C. Crosthwaite. “We must reset the vapor category by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, policymakers, and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers.”
The federal government is considering banning all flavored vaping products.