“Name me one time prohibition has ever worked,” Ryan Hallisey said. “Is it working on marijuana right now?”
The owner of Priority Vape in the Village of Warwick, Hallisey answered his own question.
“It’s not working and that’s why people are sick,” he said.
Referring to the vaping-associated lung illnesses that have made headlines across the country, Hallisey said the illnesses are the result of people using illicit THC-laced vape products purchased on the street.
Shops like Hallisey’s that sell legal nicotine vape products are getting caught in the crossfire of public health concern and misleading media coverage, he said.
“The problem is the kids are reporting vaping, but they’re using THC,” he said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently identified vitamin E acetate as a chemical of concern in the lung illness cases. Vitamin E acetate is an oil commonly used as a thickening agent in vape products containing THC.
Prior to being suspended by a state appellate court, the New York State ban on flavored nicotine vape products was supposed to go into effect on Oct. 4.
“I was going to close my doors that day,” Hallisey said. “Since the temporary restraining order, I’m still down anywhere from 50 to 80 percent.”
Cameron Gardner, manager of Puff City Newton, said he’s been trying to educate his customers about the facts.
“Business hasn’t really been affected, it’s just people need to be educated and not confuse legal vaping products with illicit THC vaping products that are making people sick,” he said. “No one’s actually gotten sick or died from regular vaping products.”
For Hallisey, the vape business is personal.
“My grandmother died from lung cancer at 50 years old,” he said. “That’s why I got into this.”
He opened Priority Vape in 2014 as a way to help people quit smoking, and the shop has multiple e-liquid strengths to aid the transition from smoking to vaping to nothing.
“We let you do that,” Hallisey said. “We help you step down.”
Ahmed Monessar, owner of The Shop in Milford, Pennsylvania, said the media reporting on the lung illnesses has made talking to people difficult.
“It’s kind of hard to talk to people about it, because when they see it on TV they take it as gold,” he said. “It’s a little back and forth, but the truth will come out soon.”
Seeing his business almost as a public service, Hallisey said all the negative press has taken a toll.
“My customers have come in and asked, but they know that all I do is research and so I reassure them,” he said. “Some of them were borderline tears when we were about to close because they didn’t know what to do and they were going to revert back to smoking.”
Tight knit and close, the vaping community was founded by former smokers, trying to help other smokers quit, Hallisey said.
Monessar, whose shop sells both cigarettes and vape products, said his cigarette sales have gone down by 10 percent every year for the seven years he’s been in business.
“Ninety-five percent of the time they quit (cigarettes) using vaping,” he said. “They find it as a way to remove themselves from cigarettes.”
Since news of the lung illnesses broke, vape sales temporarily dipped but have since rebounded, Monessar said.
Gardner said people need to think twice before purchasing vape products from unregulated sources.
“People who are buying these products are not understanding that the people who make these things are not good people” he said. “They only want money and they don’t care about people becoming sick and dying.”
In an effort to reduce youth vaping rates, New York State has been trying to ban the sale of flavored vape products.
“New York wants to ban flavors because they think that’s the driver,” Hallisey said. “It wasn’t the driver in 2014 and 2015, when I had 150 flavors (in stock).”
The driver, he said, is a smoother nicotine delivery system.
“It’s Juul and anything like it,” Hallisey said. “Juul introduced what is called salt nic. It allows the nicotine content of the vape to be much higher, but the salt nic reduces the harshness and the scratchiness of the hit.”
The most popular flavors among youth in 2019 are mint and menthol, he said.
“That’s what they’re switching to because that’s what’s available, because they aren’t after the flavor with Juul – they’re after the buzz,” Hallisey said. “If they were after flavors, the youth use would have never gone down in 2016 and remained stagnant in 2017.”
Monessar said illicit vape products are easily purchased by youth online.
“It’s so easy,” he said. “You can see them on Instagram, people promoting it on a website that only takes a cash app. There’s no trace of it whatsoever.”
If a minor becomes sick from using bootleg vape products, it’s the fault of the parents, not the vape shops selling legal products to adults, Monessar said.
“It’s the parents or the guardians not doing their job that should be accounted for,” he said. “Not this industry that’s actually helping people.”
Helping people in spite of their bottom line is a sentiment echoed by both Hallisey and Monessar.
“In the long run, it hurts my business, but you want to know something?” Monessar said. “It’s a good feeling when somebody says, ‘I’m hooked to this and I want to get away from it’ and you have options in your shop to help them.”
“It’s a good feeling when somebody says, ‘I’m hooked to this and I want to get away from it’ and you have options in your shop to help them.” --Ahmed Monessar, owner of The Shop in Milford, Milford, Pa.