As the coronavirus continues to spread, states worldwide have implemented drastic measures to control its spread, such as by shutting down all non-essential businesses. While slowing this pandemic is vital, many states might be closing the wrong types of stores.
Michael Hancock, Mayor of Denver, Colorado, implemented a citywide closedown on non-essential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus, like many of his fellow mayors did across America. Amongst those businesses were specialty vape shops and leaving grocery stores, pharmacies, corner stores, and even pot shops open. Hancock exempted order for marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores while consolidating the availability of vaping products to stores that sell tobacco products. One thing Mayor Hancock and the cannabis industry have on their side is public sentiment. According to a YouGov poll, it was found that 58 percent of respondents believed medical marijuana dispensaries should be considered to be put under “essential businesses.” And what officials neglected is that it also included shops that sell and distribute marijuana and hemp vaping products.
Even in Colorado, all vape shops are put under a citywide ban, whereas allowing cigarettes sold at convenience stores. As warned by the healthcare professionals that smokers can become very susceptible to having health complications from the coronavirus, banning e-cigarettes will only force more people and ex-smokers to return to smoking. That will potentially add even more people to the overloaded healthcare system.
Situations similar to that in Colorado are displaying around the States. Danish Iqbal, CEO of e-cigarette wholesaler Medusa Distribution and the president of the New Jersey Vapor Rights Coalition, shows conflicting views over the matter. He stated that most of the states that have strict lockdown orders had assumed vape shops to be ‘non-essential’ businesses, with this perspective, there is no retail vape business left since most vape shops in America are now banned. Iqbal and other industry advocates believe vape shops should remain open during the coronavirus stay-at-home orders, with the argument that smokers are not going to quit during the stressful time. If vape shops kept closed, but stores selling traditional cigarettes remain open, smokers will naturally go back to bad old habits. As mentioned by Iqbal, Nicotine vaping is, by the acceptance of the FDA, a much safer alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes. While convenience stores and gas stations keep on selling these, millions of people who shifted to vaping now have no access to vaping products. It is essential to keep people who switched from cigarettes off of them.
Chelsea Boyd, a harm reduction research associate at the R Street Institute, considers keeping vape shops open is a no-brainer. According to him, keeping vape shops open as ‘essential businesses’ is crucial, since cigarettes are readily available at other essential retail stores, whereas not the vapor products.
Alex Clark, CEO of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, recently emailed supporters to convene on their public officials to exhibit vape shops as an essential business during states of crisis. Clark mentioned in his email that Governors need to hear from consumers about how important it is to keep vapor shops open, especially in these times of emergency. Under high stress and with limited options, it is very likely that we will see a large number of people go back to traditional smoking habits.
Interestingly, other countries like Italy, France, Spain, and Switzerland kept their vape retailers open, concluding it was important to ensure e-cigarette users have access to safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes to mitigate the impact of coronavirus. They treat vape shops as an essential service to assist reformed smokers and ease pressure on the health system. Vaper’s switching back to smoking would cause a rise in acute exacerbation of lung illnesses amongst many individuals who had seen extremely beneficial health impacts from quitting smoking through the use of vape products.
As per an article published by the American Consumer Institute, vape products are adopted to reduce dependence on cigarettes than any other form of FDA approved nicotine replacement alternative. Another peer-reviewed study in 2016 claimed that one-third of US smokers used vaping in their last attempt to quit smoking.
Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City, has claimed that vaping causes the coronavirus to worsen the conditions. In reality, there is not enough indication to support this claim. While vaping isn’t completely risk-free, there isn’t any proof that vaping will raise the chances of getting affected by the coronavirus. However, the truth is that smoking is the only underlying condition that makes the coronavirus worse, and vaping is 95% safer than smoking.
As stated by Amanda Wheeler, Vice President of the Rocky Mountain Smoke-Free Alliance, if alcohol and recreational marijuana are essential services, they believe that responsible adult vaping consumption is an essential service, too. According to him, this is a significant health issue, as many of the customers are former cigarette smokers looking for a more salubrious alternative to smoking. When you take away that option from them, then it surely has real health implications. With vape shops closed, former smokers may have to move back to buying cigarettes from convenience stores.
Cigarettes remain widely available in gas stations and convenience stores. Liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries are also considered essential and remain open. For many people, these options necessarily don’t fit the needs of many people. Especially for vapers or have just quit smoking, vaping products are seen as a necessity.
Many vapers, mainly ex-smoker, would find it challenging during these stressful times. Smoker and ex-smokers are already potentially falling within the higher risk category due to the damage caused by cigarette smoking. As the NHS system is already overloaded with COVID-19 activity, by not providing the delivery of a 95% healthier alternative by banning the vape shops, it would tempt a lot of vapers to switch back to smoking, ultimately defeating the purpose of a healthier and safer alternative.
Even after all these problems being counted, a national and international debate still remains unsettled around whether specialty vape shops are essential, contrary to pot shops.