Mike Delia didn’t want to be right.
One of a number of vape shop owners who testified at the State House, he told lawmakers his livelihood and life savings were likely threatened by a proposed state ban on flavored e-cigarettes.
Now, nearly two months after that outright prohibition was approved — a move that officials said was needed to keep youngsters from acquiring flavored e-cigarettes — he’s closed his shop in a small strip mall in Hamburg.
“I took my money and my wife’s money and invested it in this,” he said. “I just extended the lease in the building for three years. I have four little kids at home under the age of 10.”
Delia said he decided to close up shop rather than watch his business die a slow death. Business had dropped off precipitously as the effort to ban flavored vapes ramped up.
The ban, approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in mid-January, goes into effect on April 20.
It’s already hitting many shop owners hard, said Danish Iqbal of the New Jersey Vapor Rights Coalition, a group representing vape shop owners in the state, thought to number around 300 small businesses.
“What people sometimes don’t understand is that you can’t just close if you have a lease,” Iqbal said. “A lot of leases aren’t written to have exceptions for new regulations coming out that ban most of what you sell, so a lot of people have three- to five-year leases that they have to honor and they don’t … have the money to just get out of their lease just because the state of New Jersey decided to pass a new law.”
Trying to adapt
Delia said he tried to expand into the smoke shop business, adding pipes and bongs to his inventory, but it didn’t help.
Over in Newark, Rui Alvez, who owns Ironbound Vapes, is reversing course in an effort to stay in business.
“Yeah, we’re actually turning it into a convenience store. We’ve been here just over five years,” he said.
“It was probably a month of back-and-forth,” he said of the decision process, “where me and my girlfriend were deciding whether we were going to keep the shop at all or we should just let it go.”
Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) thinks vape shop owners got a raw deal, and hopes most can hang on in the unlikely event that the Legislature revisits the ban.
“I hope they can hold on in large part and be clever in what they can sell and stay in business because we didn’t offer any relief to them at this point,” said the South Jersey Democrat, who abstained when the ban came up for a final vote.
State officials said it was important for New Jersey to become the first state to impose a permanent ban on flavored vape products to protect young people from the dangers of vaping. Proponents also maintained that tobacco companies were purposely targeting their addictive, nicotine-laden products to underage smokers with such flavors as candy, fruit and chocolate.
Owners and other representatives of the shops said a ban on all sales was overkill and that they had protocols in place that limited sales to adults. They maintained that vaping products help to keep people from smoking traditional cigarettes.