On the counter at Beyond Vape, on St. Marks Place, you’ll find the usual varieties of “juice” used to power e-cigarettes. And you’ll also find a relatively recent addition: a donation jar.
Nearly a year after a city ban on the indoor use of e-cigarettes went into effect, still more bills are seeking to put a damper on vaping. This month, a group of eight New York vape stores started fighting to make sure those proposals don’t become law. They’ve launched an Indiegogo campaign in order to raise funds and hire a lobbyist.
Their online appeal points to 13 proposed bills that “threaten the entire vape industry,” including one that would prohibit sales of “e-liquid” altogether.
Among the stores are Beyond Vape, whose assistant manager, Nate Ashcroft, worries about the consequences of the proposed legislation. “Banning the sale of e-liquid in the state, putting a 75% tax on all electronic cigarette products, and proposing different bills to raise the price on most things will make it harder to get the products – whether it’s the juices, or the devices,” he said.
Walking into Beyond Vape is like stepping into a fruit-flavored steam room – minus the heat. Customers sit at a long glass bench called the “vape bar” and choose from hundreds of flavored e-liquids, also known as “juice.”
“A lot of people come in because they want to quit cigarettes,” says Nate. “That’s how I quit. I used vaping and it pretty much worked immediately. If you get the right flavor and the right nicotine level, it will be just as satisfying as a cigarette.”
“Vaping has definitely helped me stop smoking,” says one of the shop’s customers, identifying himself only as Gary. “I haven’t had a cigarette since I’ve started. If you like the way it is, transition is pretty easy.”
On the other hand, anti-vapers worry that e-cigs could act as a gateway to traditional cigarette smoking, and they argue that the fruit-flavored liquid is a hazard for children who might mistake it for candy. In December, following the death of a one-year-old who ingested liquid nicotine, the state banned sales of the e-liquid to minors. E-cig advocates are worried that legislation proposed by the sponsor of that bill, Manhattan Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, would ban the sale of e-liquid to adults, as well — essentially stamping out the industry.
According to the New York State Senate’s website, the bill was referred to its health committee earlier this month. But Rosenthal tells Bedford + Bowery she’s no longer pushing for its passage. “After hearing from vaping advocates across the state and in anticipation of federal action, I feel that my efforts are better spent ensuring that New York State is protecting young people and other vulnerable populations against the danger associated with the use of electronic cigarettes and their component parts,” she said.
Rather than calling for the outright ban of e-juice, Rosenthal is working on legislation that would require e-cig retailers to register with the New York State Department of Health, just as tobacco retailers do, so that their compliance with current regulations can be better monitored. She’s also fighting to get the citywide ban on indoor vaping expanded statewide, as is Governor Cuomo.
Vaping advocates worry about the motivation behind such legislation. “Some of the bills this year are being pushed by pharmaceutical companies and some by tobacco,” says Spike Babaian, owner of Vape NY on Rivington Street. “Pharmaceutical companies lose money over vaping because they have a lot of products that help people quit smoking and we have a product that people use as an alternative. If people aren’t smoking, they can’t sell their nicotine gum, and their nicotine patch, and their nicotine lozenges and all that other crap that doesn’t work or kills people.”
To protect their profits in the cigarette manufacturing industry, tobacco companies have been lobbying for vaping taxation laws and for state governments to impose the same regulatory and licensing regimes that apply to cigarettes on vapor products. Big Pharma is doing the same.
The New York vaping industry is still relatively small, but it’s determined. Spike says that vape shops in other states have chipped in to the fundraiser because they know if a ban takes place in New York, it won’t be long before the legislation starts trickling into other states. So far the group has raised $4,363 out of its $50,000 goal.
But how much does it cost to hire a lobbyist? “A lot,” says Spike. “It’s somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 per month. For a good lobbyist it can be $15,000 so it depends who you get. We need somebody for at least six months because if we don’t…” She trails off.
Whatever lies in store for the future of vaping, it’s not going to go down without a battle. One of Spike’s employees, who declined to give her name, piped up: “We’re going to fight fire with fire.”