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Vaping stores predict closure after Cuomo declares flavored e-cigarette ban

The nicotine liquid used in e-cigarettes comes in a variety of flavors. Gov. Cuomo says these flavors are made with kids in mind, but some former cigarette smokers say the flavors help them quit.

The vaping industry is reacting to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s upcoming ban on flavored e-cigarettes, saying that it is misguided and will force many small-business owners to close their shops and lay off employees. Some are predicting legal action.

Cuomo, speaking on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show one day after announcing the planned ban, said the flavored e-cigarettes are designed to addict children to nicotine.

“Flavors like bubble gum, cotton candy, Scooby Doo,” Cuomo said. “We have a public health crisis in this nation.”

The governor said teen vaping has increased by 160% in the last couple of years, and 40% of high school seniors say they vape or have vaped.

Vaping products have drawn attention lately due to a lung ailment that has sickened hundreds -- around 70 in New York -- and killed six people. The outbreak has been linked to black-market cannabis THC products laced with Vitamin E oil. It has not been linked so far to nicotine vaping products.

Owners of New York vaping stores, which are primarily small businesses, say they are being unfairly “demonized.”

Mike Kruger’s vaping store, Gotta Vape, is tucked away in small shopping center in a Schenectady suburb that also contains a beer and soda pop beverage center and a dry cleaner.

"There's no doubt that this will put us out of business."

Its display cases feature an array of nicotine-based vaping products and accessories, some of which resemble miniature high-end bottles of liquor or fancy perfume bottles. He said legal vaping is a safer alternative to combustible cigarettes.

Shelves contain rows of flavored options, including mango, watermelon and cotton candy. Kruger's preferred flavor is blue raspberry.

“The product helped me quit smoking, it helped my family members quit smoking,” said Kruger. “It’s a product that the community needs.”

He said the majority of his customers buy the flavored products, because they don’t want to be reminded of the tobacco-based cigarettes that they are trying to keep out of their lives.

“We want something that doesn’t remind us of that nasty taste,” he said.

He said he only sells to customers 21 and over, which is the legal age to purchase vaping products in Schenectady County. He said he would obey the laws anyway, but the county also conducts frequent sting operations to make sure vape store owners comply.

Kruger, who is 36 and has run two vaping stores for six years, said if the flavored ban goes into effect, he will likely lose his business. His supplier, a lab in nearby Amsterdam, could also be at risk.

“There’s no doubt that this will put us out of business,” he said. “If we lose 90 to 95% of our sales, that’s just not going to pay the bills.”

Kruger said the vaping industry is considering a lawsuit. He predicted that without the flavors, most of his customers would go back to buying tobacco cigarettes.

“It’s restricting commerce,” Kruger said. “It’s restricting access to a legal product.”’

The store’s counter displays a flyer with a picture of Cuomo, urging customers to call his office to voice their opposition to the prohibition.

The governor and state health department officials say vaping nicotine is less dangerous than cigarettes, but studies show it’s far from harmless, and there have been no long-term studies looking at potential health effects. Cuomo has not ruled out banning all vaping products

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.