The tides have been turning against vaping for a long time, but a recent decision by the Village of Victor, NY to ban the opening of vape stores for 180 days is a sign that things are really getting extreme. The moratorium has also been placed on tattoo parlors and pawn shops – other “undesirable” presences in a community – and is a reminder that despite the legality of e-cigarettes, many communities see their presence as an unwelcome one. As usual, though, the decision is based on blind fear, rather than an understanding of what e-cigarettes actually represent: a way for smokers to reduce the harm associated with their nicotine habit.
Victor Vapes – the New Store that Sparked Debate
The decision was made last Monday, and was spurred on by the planned opening of the store Victor Vapes. The store is due to open on the town’s high street on the 19th of May, and although they’ll be unaffected by the change – if anything, it will remove any potential competition – they’ve endeavored to present the case for vaping in the face of extreme statements from the public.
This, from mother Michaeleen Broyles, is clearly one of the most stupid statements ever made about e-cigarettes, despite the fact that there is a lot of competition for that “honor.” She said, “I almost lost my son to the misuse of e-cigarettes. He actually smoked what is the equivalent to two packs of cigarettes in 10 minutes.”
There is no more detail about how she almost “lost” her son, nor how he would possibly be able to accomplish such a feat without having a goliath set of mechanical lungs and an actual smoke machine to use as a mod. It probably stems from the difference in how nicotine content is displayed on cigarettes and e-cigarettes – the former being the yield (the actual content is much higher) and the latter being the baseline content. She isn’t to be expected to know that, compared to cigarettes, e-cigarettes deliver less nicotine and it gets into the blood more slowly, but you would have hoped that members of the public would think a little more before making such an implausible statement.
Of course, most of the fears are (slightly) more reasonable, if terribly misinformed, and generally revolved around the CDC’s reports of rising vaping among youth.
Store manager Jeffrey Bouman did his best to allay fears, saying that “I know that some residents will have concerns regarding minors and will be misinformed about this relatively new industry.” Referencing an existing store from the same owner-manager team, he added, “In Fairport, we have demonstrated our firm commitment to safety, to policies that go beyond the legal minimum, and to working with the school district, police, Health Department and parents to ensure that minors do not buy our products.”
Bouman did an admirable job of underlining the benefits of e-cigarettes and vape stores overall. He pointed out that “Mike and I are both ex-smokers who quit while using these products, and we care deeply about what we do,” and pointed out that gas stations and convenience stores would otherwise be the only options for smokers looking to make the switch.
He continued, “We have the opportunity to provide superior products, education and services to any adult who has an interest in vaping. Local smokers will have a convenient, knowledgeable and friendly alternative with us.”
Vaping, Tattoos, Fast Food, Pawn and Porn – The Blights on the Community
Victor already has restrictions in place for pornography and fast food stores, with vape stores joining tattoo parlors and pawn shops as the new “undesirables” in the community. Although I’m admittedly biased towards vaping, it’s hard to work out which of these restrictions is the stupidest.
Does a tattoo parlor really undermine the sanctity of a high street? Does that mean that people (you know, humans, just like you and me) with tattoos are equally undesirable? Adult stores might not be the sort of thing you want flooding your high street – unless it’s Amsterdam’s Red Light District – but again, is the fact that adults sometimes watch porn something we can realistically sweep under the rug? Hasn’t the Internet kind of removed that possibility? Is it so bad to have a pawn shop on your high street? We can’t pretend that some people aren’t poor, and that maybe, if you’re struggling to pay your bills or buy food, having somewhere to sell that gold chain isn’t such a bad thing.
It's not that any of these things are ideal or without issues; it’s just that reality is what it is, and it’s hardly fair to punish local businesses when what they’re doing is ultimately legal. For vape stores, communities may have problems with a perceived promotion of addictive products, but it’s pushed into absurdity when you consider the widespread availability of deadly and more addictive cigarettes. How can the Village Board limit the availability of effective vaping products while cigarettes are still commonplace? With e-cigarettes being obviously safer than cigarettes, and all evidence on the topic suggesting that vaping among non-smokers – adult or youth – is extremely uncommon, there seems to be no valid argument whatsoever to back up the moratorium.
What will happen in six months (when the ban is set to expire) is anybody’s guess, but this is another reminder that the e-cigarette debate needs a strong dose of rationality, science and – most importantly of all – compassion for smokers who struggle to quit.
Conclusion – The First of Many Bans?
What happens in Victor, NY is hardly a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but the decision that’s been made could well be repeated elsewhere. Vape stores are signs of the times: we know smoking is deadly, and we admit that available options for quitting don’t work for everyone, so harm reduction is the best alternative for those people. Before you even start to think about the broader implications for citizens wanting to start a legal business but being unable to do so, the fact that anybody considers limiting the availability of reduced harm products is deeply depressing. What does the decision to allow cigarettes to be sold but limit the availability of the most effective e-cigarettes say about a community?
It says that fear, ignorance and ideological hatred has stripped it of all rationality and humanity. It says that they really don’t care if something helps you quit smoking and probably saves your life, because it doesn’t fit in with the hopelessly rosy image they want to paint. I don’t say this often, but we’re better than this, or at least we should be.