FARGO — With six recent deaths linked to vaping, the Trump Administration said Wednesday, Sept. 11, that it plans to ban flavored e-cigarette liquids.
Vape shop owners in the Fargo-Moorhead area, who are bracing for what they say could devastate the multi-billion dollar industry, blame the recent epidemic of vaping-related illness on illegal black market products.
According to a report from Essentia Health, vaping nicotine has been linked to seizures and lung disease. The Food and Drug Administration now says many of the recent reported illnesses and deaths were caused by illegal THC vape cartridges, which use vitamin E acetate oil not seen in legal vapor products.
Local shop owners believe this oil is what's causing the recent illnesses and deaths.
"We use propylene glycol in the nicotine products," said Jason Bye of Northland Vapor in Moorhead. "They do not use that. They use proprietary and unknown thickening agents to carry the THC."
Just this week, Wisconsin police announced they arrested a man accused of running a more than $1 million illegal vaping operation that filled counterfeit vape cartridges with THC oil and sold them for $22 each.
Bye said the operation put the illegal product in the same plastic casings you see in legitimate vape shops.
"The real shame is that you can literally buy all of this packaging without the liquid right off of Alibaba or some Chinese website," he explained. "It will come with none of (the vape) liquid in it and then they'll add their own THC product with the thickening agents that are causing the health issues."
Dave Owen, an associate at Sports Vape in Fargo who says he used vape products to successfully quit smoking, said that if customers get sick they can report the business to health officials.
"You can call your local health department (and) they can test it immediately," he said. "You can't do that with a Chinese bootleg. You can't call Shenzhen, the region that produces them and go: 'hey, we've got a sketchy product.' They don't care."
Owen added that taking away the flavors could make it harder for people switching to vapor products to quit smoking.
"If you ban the flavors, you've taken away all the incentive to switch from cigarettes to vaping," he said. "You're forcing people to buy it from a black market manufacturer who doesn't care about your safety."
As for business, Bye of Northland Vapor said his shop could take a major blow from the proposed regulations. He believes the store would lose half its current business under a vape flavor ban.
Bye said Northland's online sales have doubled since President Trump announced the vaping crackdown Wednesday and believes it's customers reacting to the news.
"A flavor ban would be very devastating not only for us but for all vape shops across the country," Bye said.
It's still not clear when a possible ban on flavored vape liquids would take effect.