Despite mounting legal pressure, Michigan’s flavored e-cigarette ban remains in full-force after taking effect Oct. 1.
The six-month ban ordered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer already has squeezed the bottom-line of many small businesses throughout the state as flavored e-cigarette juices represent more than 90 percent of store sales. One new shop in Midland has abandoned its plan to open later this year.
Uniformed law-enforcement officers were witnessed by The Center Square ensuring compliance from one shop located in the state capitol. A Grand Blanc vape-shop employee said his boss has been proactively conversing with the local police to avoid any legal difficulties.
Ally Engelman is proprietor of Cig-Free Vape Shop, a vape-store and e-fluid manufacturer in Midland. She said her store is the only brick-and-mortar in the Tri-City area that also produces its own vape juice.
“We don’t sell online and we don’t supply other stores [with the products manufactured onsite],” she told The Center Square.
Engelman said she hasn’t had the opportunity to calculate the value of the flavored vape products she was forced to dispose of due to the ban.
“More than 90 percent of what we sold was fruity and dessert flavored,” she said. “And we were only given two weeks’ notice to comply with the ban, which wasn’t enough to sell the products we already had in inventory.”
Engelman opened the Cig-Free Vape Shop six years ago. A cigarette smoker for more than 30 years, she said she never would have quit the habit without e-cigarettes. Likewise, Bridgette Stark, a part-time store manager and Engelman’s daughter, told The Center Square she also kicked a longtime cigarette habit with the assistance of e-cigarettes.
Many employees and vape-store owners contacted by The Center Square declined to speak on the record, stating fears of law-enforcement reprisals that may come with hefty fines. Others declined to be interviewed due to what they characterized as journalists who either support the ban or misunderstand the benefits of formerly legal e-cigarettes in curbing or eliminating combustible consumption of nicotine.
In a conversation with The Center Square, Christian Castell said he has already taken a second job as a security guard while his fate as manager of Inline Vape in Grand Blanc is determined.
“Eighty percent of what we sold were flavored e-liquids,” he said.
Castell noted his store was rushed for two days prior to the ban taking effect, but sales traffic has dropped precipitously since Tuesday. Referring to the legal challenges filed against the state by members of the vaping industry, Castell stated his hopes the legal system will stop the ban in the near future in much the same way a New York appellate court issued a restraining order against a recently imposed flavored e-cigarette ban in the Empire State.
“We are very pleased with the New York State Appellate Division’s decision, which acknowledges the strength of our claims about the State’s executive overreach, and which preserves the ability of hundreds of small businesses to remain open and continue to serve their adult customers," Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, told the New York Times. “The New York State Legislature, instead of enacting a flavor ban, already has decided to address concerns about youth vaping by raising the minimum age for vapor products from 18 to 21 and imposing a major tax increase.”
A consortium of vape shop owners in Massachusetts also filed a case in U.S. District Court against Gov. Charles Baker and Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bahrel over the state’s four-month ban on flavored e-cigarettes announced 10 days ago. The Boston Globe reported Oct. 4 the ban has prompted Bay State travelers to purchase vaping juice from New Hampshire stores, driven former smokers to return to smoking cigarettes, caused patients to experiment with substitutes, and increased the number of individuals using black market products that may contain harmful addititves.
In the meantime, Michigan vaping businesses aren’t sure whether they’ll be able to weather the next six months.
“If the courts don’t step in soon,” Castell said, “every small shop in Michigan will close down, there will be massive job losses and the governor will have put a ton of businesses under.”