The Wash

How ‘Vape Street NE’ will survive if e-cig bans pass

While the District’s lawmakers and health officials are pushing regulations to ban flavored vape pens, businesses in the H Street Corridor believe the need for an alternative to regular cigarettes will always have space in the marketplace.

Restrictions on e-cigarettes are moving fast in D.C. after the spike in illnesses and deaths connected to them. Ward 3 D.C Councilmember Mary Cheh pushed for the ban of the sale or distribution of flavored e-cigarettes last Tuesday.

The ban proposals come after President Trump’s administration push to ban flavored e-cigarettes and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report confirming 530 cases of lung injury from 38 states and one U.S territory. The median age of those affected is 19 years old.

In addition, Ward 7 D.C Councilmember Vincent C. Gray proposed the requirement of medical prescriptions to purchase these products and will only be accessible at authorized pharmacies.

Seven deaths have been reported due to vaping, including Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon and two in California.

The number of vapers has grown rapidly over the last decade, according to Euromonitor International research group. Based on their report, they expect the number of vapers to grow to 55 million by 2021.

H Street local Darnell Ford is one of those vapers. He is a regular at Nomad’s Shop, located in the H Street Corridor, and he visits at least twice a week to pick up vape juice, which he describes as “liquid tobacco.”

“I don’t smoke cigarettes any longer. I don’t smell like cigarettes and don’t have the health effects of smoking cigarettes as shortness of breath and things of that nature,” said Darnell Ford, a regular at Nomad Shop. (Taylor Ardrey/ The Wash)

Ford has been vaping for about a year now, which he said allowed him to stop smoking cigarettes. He disagrees with the push against these products and the stigma getting placed on regulated vaping culture is due to people not knowing the distinction between tobacco and marijuana vaping.

“Marijuana vaping is a lot more unsafe than tobacco vaping because anyone can make a marijuana cartridge and sell it to you and you don’t know what’s in it,” Ford said.

Officials don’t have a definitive answer as to why hundreds of people are getting ill. However, the black market and underground electronic device sellers could potentially be a contributing factor. These products are often not regulated and tested for defects by professionals.

“It’s a war between traditional tobacco companies and this new generation of vapor products and alternatives,” said Jordan Payne, manager of Nomad Shop. “When people purchase off-market, fake, illegal weed cartridges you can’t really differentiate what’s really in it and they cut it with things that can be severe and dangerous to your health.”

Although bans are underway, Payne is not concerned they will affect Nomad Shop because they offer a variety of products. But even if the proposed bills end up passing, they have a plan to continue getting business.

“Restructure our market campaign so we could target in on another alternative. Maybe cigars or patches or gums. So people can still get away from that traditional way of smoking.”

“We offer every variety from JUUL pens, clove cigarettes to traditional cigarettes, to cigars as well. We also offer tobacco chews,” said Jordan Payne, manager at Nomad Shop in the H Street corridor. (Taylor Ardrey/ The Wash)

Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit that advocates for sensible vaping regulation, agrees the “hysteria” around vaping is due to black-market devices.

“Ninety percent to 100% of these cases are specifically related to illicit or poorly manufactured THC cartridges,” Conley said.

Conley suggests many shops will not survive following the proposed bans around the country. “You can’t ban 90% plus of a product that a company sells and not expect them to either close or embrace gray market loopholes,” he said.

But most of all, he finds fault with the idea of the proposed bans themselves.

“That is the most ridiculous proposal in the country thus far.”

Taylor Ardrey

Taylor Ardrey is a graduate student and multimedia journalist at American University. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Media, Journalism & Film from Howard University. She is currently a practicum student at The Washington Post and serves as the graduate ambassador for AU's School of Communications. Catch her covering local stories in the District with 5in. heels.

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