Some retail vape shops in Durango are looking to diversify their business models after reports about hospitalizations and deaths associated with vaping drove a sales decline.
“About a fourth of my customer base decided they were going to quit smoking and quit vaping,” said Robert Fry, general manager of Vapers Vape Shop. However, in recent months, some customers have come back, and he believes the industry can recover, he said.
“I think we’ll bounce back pretty alright,” he said.
Customer Jessica Pack said the reports concerned her because she had vaped steadily for four years after she stopped smoking.
“I was a little bit panicked, but I was also frustrated. ... I felt like I did such good things for my body by quitting smoking,” she said. The switch to vaping improved her breathing and her sense of taste, she said.
She posed her concerns to Vapers staff, who told her that most of the lung problems associated with vaping were connected with black market products, which helped her feel safer, she said.
“They know their trade, as much as they can, so I felt confident in that,” she said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found a class of counterfeit THC-containing products of unknown origin, called Dank Vapes, was linked to lung injuries, primarily in the U.S. Northeast and South. Brands such as TKO, Smart Cart and Rove also have been associated with the epidemic, the CDC said.
The CDC found vitamin E acetate, a skin care product, in the lungs of patients who developed problems breathing after vaping. Vitamin E acetate can be used as a thickening agent in THC products.
Still, products containing nicotine cannot be ruled out as problematic, said Annie Mombourquette, coordinator of substance use prevention at San Juan Public Health Department.
In Colorado, 12 residents have developed breathing problems after vaping, and all lived on the Front Range, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Half of them were sickened after using products that contained nicotine only, Mombourquette said.
Mombourquette said she couldn’t determine why Colorado has seen fewer cases of lung injuries than other states. She also couldn’t say whether vaping has declined since the reports of lung injuries.
A. Gabriel Gentile, owner of Vape Durango, said he estimated local sales declined 35% to 40%, and she laid off two employees.
The national news “really threw us and our industry under the bus, even though we had nothing to do with any of these illnesses or sicknesses or deaths at all,” he said.
Colorado’s widely available legal and tested marijuana might have kept many residents from purchasing counterfeit and unsafe products on the black market, Gentile said.
“We are a legal state, and it’s very easy for college kids or high school kids to find an older brother to go into a dispensary for them and get them a legit, legal cartridge, which is a reason why I don’t think we have seen any of the problems in our area,” he said.
To help boost business, Vape Durango and 3rd Eye Vapor plan to diversify their inventory to include pipes and more CBD products, staff said.
“I am really going to try to expand, not away from vape, but do some things in conjunction with the vape that will hopefully stabilize my books a little bit,” Gentile said.
Residents who vape can protect themselves from injury by avoiding vape products containing THC from informal sources, according to the CDC.
Mombourquette recommends that vapers quit. Residents can get support by calling the Colorado QuitLine 1-800-QUIT-Now.