Sales at Victoria’s vaping stores are being hit hard after ‘vape-related illness’ reports out of the U.S., and more recently, Canada.
John Delaney, owner of South Island Vapors, says sales are down about 60 per cent, and if the trend continues, he and many other vaping businesses might close.
“We’ve had the worst impact you could possibly imagine,” he says. “It is a complete drop in sales for the shop.”
Vaping products have been on the market since 2004, but in the last year health concerns have taken over the news cycle, with hundreds of possible cases of vape-related illness, including 33 deaths, identified in the U.S. and at least five cases confirmed in Canada.
However a majority of those affected say they had been vaping THC – the compound in marijuana that provides a high.
The Centre for Disease Control has acknowledged that most patients with vaping-related lung problems used e-cigarettes containing THC, and the Federal Drug Administration’s official warning asks consumers to stop using THC-containing vaping products and products purchased “off the street” – two things Delaney’s shop doesn’t sell.
“This is not a vape shop issue, it’s a matter of people getting the right story and relaying it in the proper fashion,” he says, calling the subsequent sales impact and policy-making a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“When [consumers] buy off the street, they’re not sure what they’re getting and there’s an inherent risk associated with that … all that blame is being placed on our industry and it’s heart breaking.”
Heart breaking, Delaney says, because vaping allowed him, and many others, to quit smoking cigarettes. At one time Delaney smoked two packs of Du Mauriers a day.
“I started smoking when I was nine,” he says. “I smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 17 years … I watched my my father die from smoking-related illness.” He credits vaping with quitting and the subsequent health benefits includidng breathing, sleeping and tasting food better all while not “stinking like a cigarette.”
Health Canada, while still in the midst of investigating potential harmful effects, says completely replacing cigarette smoking with vaping reduces exposure to harmful chemicals. The government states that with the exception of nicotine, vaping products typically contain “a fraction of the 7,000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke.”
Rina Goth opened E-Clectic Vape – now located on Victoria’s Courtenay Street – six years ago. She says sales have dipped about 20 to 25 per cent since reports of vaping-related illness hit the news.
“I knew I would probably get hit a little bit, but it’s hit me harder than I thought it would,” Goth says. “Every time we get hit by bad news or misinformation that’s out there, the sales go down and it takes a little while for people to come back.”
To Goth, who also used vaping to quit smoking cigarettes, misinformation about the cause of vaping-related illness is likely the root cause of the sales hit. She says THC and black market products are behind the sudden surge of illnesses.
“All our juices are made by manufacturers here in Canada, and we have very strict laws to what can be put in there,” she says, adding that one of her big concerns is B.C. MLA Todd Stone’s efforts to ban flavoured vaping products.
“It concerns me that they are trying to ban flavours. If they ban flavours, I’m going bankrupt. I would lose my shop,” she says. “I, as an adult, like my flavours and I don’t think we should eliminate the flavours just because kids are getting a hold of it.”
But vaping is relatively new – something many health professionals point to as a cause for concern, citing the lengthy time period it took to identify the harmful health impacts of cigarette smoking.
And many of the concerns around vaping are related to non-smoking youth at risk of developing nicotine addictions. A recent Health Canada survey showed that 23 per cent of students in grades 7-12 had tried an e-cigarette.
Both Delaney and Goth agree that youth vaping is an issue, but point to the fact that identification is required to purchase vaping products in their stores – and those under 19-years-old are prohibited from making purchases, just like tobacco and alcohol sales.
“As an adult-only location, we never sell to minors or anyone under 19,” Delaney says.
Since vaping-related illness emerged, the federal government has recommended that those who don’t already vape not to start – but for those who do, it says not to use unregulated or illegal vaping products, not to modify or add substances to vaping products, and finally, not to return to cigarettes if you “are vaping…as a means of quitting cigarette smoking.”
“I need to vape, because I use nicotine,” Delaney says. “I’m an adult. If they take this away from us, if they go ahead with a ban, I will be out buying Du Mauriers.”
With files from the Canadian Press.
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