OREM — A temporary rule banning the sale of flavored e-cigarette juices in Utah stores without specialty tobacco licenses went into effect Monday.
The emergency Utah Department of Health rule will remain in place for 120 days, after which department officials will re-evaluate the rule and potentially work to put a permanent rule in place.
The shelves inside VIP Vapors had more space than they used to Monday because owner Juan Bravo had to stop the sale of all flavored e-juices before opening.
As some customers came inside, they were surprised to see the change.
“We’re taking the time to educate our consumers on what’s going on, what caused it and, I guess, keep them from becoming too demoralized by this,” Bravo said.
The so-called ban on flavored e-juices that went into effect Monday was in response to vape-related lung illnesses.
As of Monday, the number of those recorded cases was up to 98, with nearly all of those patients reporting having used vape cartridges containing illegal THC additives. Stores that do not have specialty tobacco licenses are no longer able to sell the flavored juices, in an effort to keep them away from underage users.
“We feel like (there) would have been much more sensible steps to take before enacting a ban that puts a lot of people out of business, costs employees their jobs, and could potentially push customers either into a black market or into smoking,” Bravo said. “We don’t want our kids around it, but if you’re an adult who smokes, we definitely feel that this should be a product that’s available to them.”
Bravo, who also serves as president of the Utah Vapor Business Association, said many stores like his require an I.D. scan before any sale takes place.
“We understand youth prevention, and we’ve been championing youth prevention from the get-go,” Bravo said. “To me, any kind of regulation that infringes and encroaches on somebody running a legitimate, legal business, I’m not OK with.”
Recent survey results from the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health showed vape use among teens continues to go up, though not as drastically as in years past. Prevention program manager Susannah Burt said making the products less accessible to youth is one factor in prevention, but not the only one.
“Our goal with prevention is to educate parents and families that there are ways to say ‘hey this isn’t safe. This isn’t a better alternative. It’s just something different than tobacco and it does have consequences,’” Burt said.
Bravo said his store will survive the flavor ban. He has several other products that he can sell in the store and one other location that does have a tobacco license.
“We’re going to have to bide our time and hope for the best,” Bravo said. “We’re hoping that the state will become reasonable on this and that they’ll recognize that much like the UK, Canada, the European Union have realized the Royal College of Physicians cites vaping as at least 95% safer than combustible cigarettes.”