N.J. Vape Shops Must Close or Rebrand

Many are loaded with soon-to-be-illegal products.

February 20, 2020

EAST HANOVER, N.J.—Adam Mitrani opened his first Darth Vapor e-cigarette shop six years ago after his carwash business collapsed, and soon he had a brisk business with two outlets in New Jersey and one in New York. But his fortunes have changed, reports the New York Times.

At the end of this month, Mitrani, 48, will close one of his New Jersey stores, and in the other, he’ll stock the very item he has spent years helping customers quit—tobacco.

Like 270 similar shops in New Jersey, Darth Vapor is filled almost entirely with items that will be illegal to sell in the state by mid-April. In January, New Jersey became the second state to outlaw all nicotine vaping liquids other than those that taste like tobacco. The ban includes all fruit- and menthol-flavored e-cigarettes and cartridges, as well as most nicotine-infused liquids that are used in larger, hand-held vaping devices and are commonly sold in vape shops.

Under New Jersey’s new law, Darth Vapor’s disposable e-cigarettes, menthol JUUL pods and flavors must be gone by April 20. Only a handful of tobacco-flavored products can remain. “How does a whole store that pays employees and rent survive on five flavors of tobacco?” Mitrani told the Times. “The answer is it can’t.”

Trying to stay afloat, many shop owners are selling off as much inventory as possible, operating on month-to-month leases and preparing to close. Others plan to sell pipes, tobacco products, CBD oil and kratom, an herbal supplement that the FDA has said can be dangerous.

New Jersey’s move is part of a flurry of government action aimed at slowing the rate of vaping by teenagers, and vape shops nationwide are struggling with FDA restrictions on flavored e-cigarette cartridges that took effect this month. Massachusetts adopted legislation similar to New Jersey’s in November after hundreds of people nationwide were hospitalized over the summer with a mysterious vaping-related illness.

Many Massachusetts shops have undergone similar changes, while some states, including New York and Michigan, tried to temporarily stop the sale of flavored vaping products through executive orders. Lawsuits stalled those efforts.

New Jersey’s law goes well beyond the new federal guidelines, which permit menthol flavors. Vape shop owners argue that limiting sales in stores where customers already must be 21 years old will not significantly curb teenage vaping, especially since flavored products are readily available online.

Instead, the law penalizes adults who began vaping in order to quit smoking tobacco, they argue. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine released last year found that e-cigarettes were nearly twice as effective as other nicotine replacement products, like patches and gum, for quitting smoking.

Mike Moran, the owner of two Firehouse E-Cigs and Vapors shops in southwest New Jersey, said he will close his two stores and move out of state. He believes vape shops are being unfairly blamed for a public health scare over an illness that is primarily linked to vaping THC.

Disposable e-cigarettes are still allowed under the federal guidelines. That loophole has allowed determined teens to switch from refillable e-cigarettes to disposable varieties, which come packaged with nicotine cartridges and cannot be reloaded. New Jersey’s law makes disposable e-cigarettes illegal to sell.

Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli opposed the flavor ban, saying it would hurt small businesses without making a significant dent in what he agreed was a crisis in teenage vaping.

“Nothing we did prevents people from finding the product, either on the black market or the internet,” Burzichelli said. “We’ve lost the ability to tax it. We’ve lost the ability to regulate it. We’re going to send them elsewhere to obtain it.”