Denver vape shops feel pinched by an e-cigarette ban that doesn’t even exist yet

One owner said he had to cut staffers.
4 min. read
Denver Vapor in Capitol Hill, Oct. 3, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Some Denver vaping shops say they are feeling the crunch from a potential ban on flavored e-cigarettes proposed by the Trump administration amid an outbreak of vaping-related lung injuries.

The Hill reported on Thursday that the Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue guidelines on the ban soon. The ban focuses on curbing rising e-cigarette use rates among teens. Colorado has among the highest rates of teen e-cigarette use in the country, according to a 2018 survey of more than three dozen states.

As of October 1, the Center for Disease Control has seen 1,080 cases of lung injuries associated with e-cigarette or vaping products in 48 states. Eighteen people have died, none in Colorado.

The potential ban is leaving people like Nick Finch frustrated. Finch is part business owner and manager at Denver Vapor, a vape shop and hookah lounge on 13th Avenue. He thinks not enough attention is being placed on the connection between the illness and black market THC cartridges. THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis.

"Everything just gets tied into vaping," Finch said. "They're not providing the fact that we get everything, everything in our shop is laboratory-tested. Everything's good. We make sure that nothing is sold to anyone who is a minor, or anything like that."

In Colorado, the state has tracked nine vaping cases involving seven hospitalizations, according to the latest figures from the Department of Public Health & Environment. People have reported using marijuana, nicotine or both in those cases. At least four of the cases were in Denver.

Denver Vapor has been open for five years, Finch said. But the last few weeks have been tough.

"Basically, our shop in the past three weeks to a month, ever since all of this news, information has been coming, it's drastically put our sales down," Finch said. "We've had to put two weeks notices into at least five of our employees already."

Eliminating five employees cuts his staff by half.

The CDC doesn't know what specific chemical exposure causes the lung illnesses showing up around the country, adding that no single product or substance has been linked to all the cases. CDC does suggest products containing THC play some role in the outbreak, and "recommends not buying vaping or e-cigarette products off the streets or modifying them in way that wasn't intended by the manufacturer."

Dustin Barnett, owner at Vapor Core on South Broadway, also called the situation frustrating. He operates three storefronts in addition to his Denver location. He's been in the business for more than five years.

"It's absolutely affecting our business but not in the sense that we are losing our sales, but in the sense that we have scared customers for a problem we are not a part of," Barnett said.

He thinks the administration's logic -- that banning flavored e-cigarettes will lower smoking rates among teens -- is flawed. He said adults enjoy these products as well, just like they enjoy flavored alcohol.

"People will come in and say, 'What flavor do you have that don't have that deadly chemical in them?'" Barnett said. "Well, obviously, we don't sell that."

Both Barnett and Finch said their products help cigarette smokers quit tobacco. Barnett is unhappy with the city raising the smoking age limit, saying it leaves teenagers with fewer options to try and quit tobacco. Finch supported the raise.

Sadi Smith has worked at Purple Haze Smoke Shop's flagship store on Colfax for just under a year. The company operates seven shops in the metro area. Smith said their primary products are glassware, so she hasn't noticed too much of a difference in sales.

But she has noticed an uptick in sales for reusable cartridges for vaping pens. These cartridges are usually filled with THC concentrate and can be refilled. She believes the reason they've been selling more of these cartridges is because people want to control what they're vaping.

Like Finch, Smith said it's black market products that are leading to serious lung problems.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said his office will investigate whether the electronic cigarette company JUUL engaged in deceptive marketing to lure kids to their product.

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