The Wash
Georgetown Vape Shops See Concerned Customers

Vaping fears hurt local retailers

Vaping retailer feels that wave of fear is misguided and is hurting business.

Erich Roney runs three vape shops in the D.C. Metro Area, but the fear building around e-cigarettes is making business tough.

Roney is the district manager of VaporFi, a group of vape shops that also carry CBD oil with a location in the Georgetown neighborhood. Roney told The Wash that recent news about vaping-related illnesses and deaths have hurt business, and the fear surrounding the news of sickness and potential regulation has “absolutely” hurt sales.

“I have a lot of customers that are concerned. You’ve got a lot of people stating how they don’t know what they’re going to do because this is the only thing that’s helped them quit smoking. So if they don’t have the flavors, they don’t really know what their options are,” Roney said.

He said that people are calling with questions and stockpiling liquids, unsure if they’re ever going to be able to get them again.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, at least seven people have had deaths related to vaping, and hundreds more have been hospitalized and injured. While no major agencies, including the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have established a clear link between vaping and these health issues both urged caution.

Roney said that he hasn’t seen anyone with any serious health effects in his store from vaping. The most he said he’s seen is irritation caused by someone drawing vapor in a way that isn’t consistent with the vape’s design.

Maura Byrne is a student who uses Juuls. She’s not too worried about the scenario and thinks that people are ignoring the real culprit and instead focusing on the hysteria surrounding vaping itself.

“If you do a lot of deeper research, it’s mostly a lot of black market THC carts, and I don’t use those, so I’m not worried,” Byrne said.

The Trump administration has been floating the idea of banning flavored e-cigarettes. Proponents of the ban say that this would shut down a market that disproportionately targets younger demographics, such as college and high school students. 

Vaping flavors which attract minors are a concern for some health officials.

Elizabeth McDermott is the nurse at Georgetown Day School. While she said vaping and e-cigarette use isn’t an issue at the middle school, the school faces problems on their high school campus.

“I don’t think they should be sold,” McDermott said.

McDermott highlighted the fact that the products often mimic general household supplies, such as flash drives or inhalers, thereby allowing students the potential to bring them into schools. 

She also pointed to the plethora of flavors available. Along with the way that the vapes and e-cigarettes are packaged and designed, they can include things such as superheroes, which target younger demographics. Additionally, she said that since they don’t smell, they’re easier for avoiding detection from parents with covert usage.

Critics of further vaping restrictions, such as Roney, argue that the negative press surrounding vaping is a result of mixed messaging and that fears are overblown and misdirected. Roney told The Wash the latest talk of vaping regulation is a “knee-jerk reaction.”

“The general public has some idea that we offer flavors to entice kids, which is a crazy assumption to me because you can do a Google search for alcohol. There’s doughnut flavored alcohol, there’s cotton candy, sherpert, all these types of alcohols are flavored in cotton candy kind of ways. We offer the same flavors that they would, it’s no different,” Roney said.

Roney emphasized that alcohol is marketed as an adult beverage, while he markets vaping as an adult tool to get off nicotine and tobacco.

He said that most of his customers are former smokers and he very rarely has customers that want to start vaping because they think it’s “cool.” 

Despite the anecdotal evidence, whether or not e-cigarettes help people quit smoking traditional tobacco products isn’t definite. 

“E-cigarettes containing nicotine have the potential to help some individual adult smokers reduce their use of and transition away from cigarettes. However, e-cigarettes are not currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a quit smoking aid, and the available science is inconclusive on whether e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking,” said the CDC in a press release August 30th.

Roney said that the regulation isn’t new and that regulation by the FDA has existed since 2016. The FDA ruling was a blanket regulation that covered all tobacco products.

He said the liquids that he sells at his shop are trackable, right down to the lab and the shipment. He said that the issue should be likened to that of a bad batch of food, such as with bad batches of tuna or lettuce, where that particular brand had that single batch pulled.

Matt Thibault

Masters student at American University. Journalist and storyteller. Notorious Wi-Fi Ganondorf.

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