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Ban On Sale Of Vaping Products In Mass. Causes Concern For Retailers

Some retailers in Massachusetts are having to adjust with a ban in place on the sale of vaping products.

State public health officials at the direction of Governor Charlie Baker halted sales for four months this week amid growing concern about negative health effects.

Gaurang Patel owns Bird's Store in Florence, a section of Northampton. He said the ban will definitely hurt his business since 10-20% of sales come from e-cigarettes and vaping supplies.

"We just got to hang in there and keep your expenses low, get rid of some expenses like employees, raise some prices, just to make sure that all the expenses will be paid for," he said.

Patel said it would be unfair if Massachusetts residents are able to get vaping supplies online instead.

"I would be really upset, because knowing that I'm the one who's a brick-and-mortar, paying taxes, hiring employees, obeying all the laws — and yet internet is free to do whatever they want," he said.

Impact on marijuana retailers

The ban is the first of its kind in the nation — and it's also impacting the Massachusetts marijuana industry. The state's Cannabis Control Commission said Tuesday it had instructed licensed retailers to immediately stop selling vaping products and devices.

"The Commission will be communicating with its licensees to ensure awareness of and compliance with the order," the agency said in a statement.

Mark Zatyrka, the head of INSA, which has marijuana dispensaries in Easthampton and Springfield, said about 20% of business comes from vaping supplies.

"The distillate oil that we sell in our vape pens and our cartridges and our dart pods make up the second-largest category for our business after flower," Zatyrka said. "That's not our number one concern. Our number one concern, of course, is public safety."

Zatyrka said he's worried about what medical customers will end up doing because of the ban.

"I would think a lot of them are going to end up having to turn to the black market," he said. "And that's where the majority — possibly almost all the cases — seem to be coming from are black market products. My worry is we're going to see an increase of people getting sick as a result of this ban."

Zatyrka said edibles containing marijuana could be an alternative.

Responsibility falling to local health departments

The ban will be enforced by local boards of health, according to Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

"First of all, we expect compliance," Sudders said. "Second is we have the capacity through the local boards of health to institute fines, and/or up to confiscation of products if they're not removed from the shelves."

The ban caught some local health officials off-guard.

"It's kind of up in the air at the moment. It happened pretty quickly and it's still working itself out," West Springfield Public Health Director Jeanne Galloway said Tuesday.

Galloway, who supports Baker's move, said she planned to notify tobacco retailers in her town, some of whom, she acknowledged, would have a hard time staying open.

"There are many places that, you know, 90-plus percent of their business is vape products, and I don't know if they'll be able to hang on without operating for four months," she said.

Galloway said she was pleased the governor's announcement included a standing order to increase access to smoking cessation products.

"So now, if you are addicted to nicotine and you want to stop, you don't have to necessarily go to your physician and get a a prescription," Galloway said. "You can just go right to the pharmacy."

In Springfield, Health Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said she may ask the local public health board to go even further than Baker's order, and permanently ban vaping products.

"The [Springfield] Public Health Council may wait for the data to come out from the state," she said. "However, the [council] has been extremely proactive around this issue of vaping."

Springfield last year banned the use of vaping products in all places where smoking tobacco is prohibited.

NEPR's Sam Hudzik and Katie Lannan of the State House News Service contributed to this report.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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