Customers can once again buy some vaping products in Massachusetts, after Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration lifted a ban on the sale of nicotine vape products Wednesday.
Retail shops are still prohibited from selling flavored nicotine under a new state law. But businesses can once again sell unflavored or tobacco-flavored vaping products. For many vape shops, that still doesn’t mean it’s back to business as usual.
“We’re glad that the ban is being lifted partially, but it’s not like, ‘woohoo, the ban’s been lifted’ because we can’t sell the biggest piece of our business anymore, which was flavored juices,” said Stacy Poritzky, the co-owner of Vape Daddy’s in Newton.
Poritzky said 90% of her vaping sales came from flavored products. And the ban has already forced Vape Daddy’s to close two of its four locations.
“It was like if you owned a supermarket and they said to you, ‘you can’t sell any more food there.’ So you will go, OK, but I can sell magazines. I can sell books, greeting cards,” Poritzky said. “And we were just like, OK, we’ve got to think of something. Another great idea.”
So Poritzky and her business partner David Bershad are moving in a new direction by offering products for people to grow marijuana.
One product — a hydroponic system — uses water instead of soil to grow plants. It looks like a sleek flower pot with LED lights above it.
Vape Daddy’s is banking on this system, as well as offering customers more smoking accessories, like pipes and bongs. The business is now rebranding as a “plant to pipe” store.
“This is our plan B. There’s no plan C. So, hopefully this will work,” Poritzky said.
Other vape shops are looking to expand their offerings, too. Pete Patel owns Liquid Smoke & Vape Shop in Allston. Back in September when the ban was first put in place, he didn’t think he’d make it.
“It’s totally a disaster for us,” Patel told WBUR then. “For the whole industry. Now we have to close down.”
But Patel didn’t close down during the ban — which was shorter than initially planned. His shop used to be lined with vaping products.
“Now we’re focusing on more tobacco products,” Patel said. ” So that’s why we changed. We got other kind of stuff, like hookah stuff.”
Flavored vaping juices made up about 30% of Patel’s total sales. He doesn’t think his new offerings will completely make up for those sales, but he hopes it will be enough to stay in business.
“We’ll see how it goes. And if it works out for us, then we’ll stay here. Otherwise, we have to move out,” Patel said, with a nervous laugh.
At least one of Patel’s customers isn’t going back to vaping after the ban.
“I actually wanted to stop [vaping] and the ban sort of helped it,” said Art Baden, who stopped into Liquid Smoke & Vape Shop to look at pipes.
Baden has also made a switch of his own. “I just got back to cigarettes a little more,” he added.
That’s what critics of the vape ban were worried about. Some vape shop owners said their customers used flavored vaping products as a way to quit smoking combustible cigarettes.
“It’s not fair. I’m a 21-plus store. I’ve been following the rules,” said an exasperated Richard Lamoretti, who owns Fast Eddie’s Smoke Shop in Allston. “I’m going to wrap it up. I’m going to move my store to New Hampshire.”
Business boomed for some vape shops in New Hampshire, as Massachusetts residents crossed the border to buy products during the ban.
The Baker administration banned the sale of vaping products back in September, after a wave of vaping-related lung illnesses and some deaths. State and federal officials are still looking for the cause.
Meanwhile, some vape shops sued the state over the ban. Attorney Craig Rourke represents six businesses suing the state. Rourke said his clients’ losses range from several hundreds of thousands of dollars to about $4 million.
“Unfortunately for some of them, the ban closed their doors. Some of them aren’t going to be able to reopen,” Rourke said.
As vape shops figure out what may lie ahead, state health officials continue to recommend that people don’t use any e-cigarette or vaping products.