SEEKONK, Mass. (WPRI) — Bryan Rodriguez and his coworkers spent the morning boxing up thousands of dollars worth of vape products at their Seekonk store, Smart Stop Convenience.
“We just purchased 50 cases worth of Juul products and now we’re sitting on them,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody is saying they’re not taking any returns.”
As of Wednesday morning, Rodriguez said Smart Stop had not received any official guidance about Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s newly announced ban on vape products.
“Instead of waiting for our notice to come, we went ahead and just pulled all our stuff,” he said.
Baker on Tuesday declared a sweeping, temporary ban on the sale of vape products, citing the risk of pulmonary disease. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 530 cases of lung injuries connected to the use of vape products have been reported, including seven deaths.
The governor’s office sent a letter to local health boards in Massachusetts, requesting their assistance enforcing the ban through inspections.
The Department of Public Health “will rely on your local expertise to help enforce this Order within each of your municipalities,” the letter said.
“As you visit retailers, conduct inspections to ensure vaping products are not being sold and are not on display,” the letter instructed. “If vaping products are being sold or remain on display, issue a cease and desist letter and direct the retailer to immediately stop selling and/or remove vaping products from display.”
Retailers that violate the ban face fines of up to $1,000 per violation.
Across the state line in East Providence, John Mahlecke said business was busier than usual Wednesday at Vaporetti, just hours before Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo announced a more limited ban on flavored vape products in her state.
“Right after Massachusetts announced their ban on the products, Rhode Island has actually seen an uptick in sales of vapor products,” Mahlecke said.
Raimondo, like Baker, said she is concerned about the use of vape products among children.
“These products are deliberately, specifically targeted to children, being used by children, and hurting children,” Raimondo said.
There are currently 401 businesses with electronic nicotine-delivery licenses from the R.I. Department of Health, according to data obtained by Target 12. A handful of those businesses are from out of state but most are based in Rhode Island. Licenses are renewed annually for $25.
“They’re mom-and-pop shops, so basically it’s going to put a lot of Rhode Islanders out of business,” Mahlecke added.
But CVS Health, one of Rhode Island’s biggest businesses, lauded the move.
“Gov. Raimondo is taking a critical step to curtail the use of flavored e-cigarettes in our home state of Rhode Island,” the Woonsocket-based retail pharmacy chain said in a statement. “This and similar actions across the country get us one step closer to the first tobacco-free generation.”
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Health, said manufacturers and distributors will have to certify that they are not selling flavored products.
Several agencies, including local law enforcement, the Rhode Island State Police, the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), and the attorney general’s office will be involved in the enforcement of the ban, Wendelken said.
Target 12 also checked into previous enforcement against businesses that sell vaping products. During a 2018 federal sweep, 19 businesses in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts were fined or issued warnings for selling vaping products to minors.