LYNN — Two days after Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state-wide four-month ban on the sale of vaping products, Jolly Vapors owner Jack Jolly was outside his closed store contemplating whether his business can survive.
“I can’t wrap my head around it right now,” said Jolly, while sitting outside his Woodman Street store Thursday evening. “I have my entire life invested in this. My whole family eats off of this.”
In addition to the Lynn store, which is located across the street from Fraser Field, Jolly, 37, of Saugus, owns three other vapes-only stores in Massachusetts. He has had to close all four of his stores since the governor’s announcement on Tuesday that the sale of all vape products, including both tobacco and marijuana, will be prohibited until Jan. 25, 2020.
The ban was part of Baker’s declaration of a public health emergency in response to public health concerns about a mysterious vaping-related illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 805 cases of confirmed or probable lung illness in 46 states and one U.S. territory, and 12 deaths. As of Tuesday, 61 cases have been reported in Massachusetts.
Jolly called the ban “unconstitutional” and said closing the Lynn store alone for four months would result in about a $120,000 loss of profit. He estimated all four stores make about that amount, so that could result in a $480,000 loss of sales for him.
Jolly plans to keep paying his 15 employees — two in Lynn — and will continue to pay rent at the shuttered store. It’s more bad news for the father of three, whose house burned down last September. He has been living out of a hotel and is working to put his 18-year-old son through college.
Michele Desmarais, the city’s public health director, said she’s been fielding phone calls from store owners, who have similar plights, for days following the governor’s ban.
“I have heard from a lot from people concerned about their business going under, which I’m concerned about because it’s their livelihood, but the directive came from the governor,” Desmarais said.
“It’s important to understand that in a very short amount of time, there have been over 500 serious lung illnesses that relate to vaping, whether it’s the device or the product. Until they can determine what ingredients, or devices are causing this lung illness epidemic, then I agree with the governor and the ban.”
During the temporary, four-month ban, the Baker administration will work with medical experts and state and federal officials to better identify what is making people sick and how to better regulate vaping products to protect the health of the state’s residents, Baker said on Tuesday.
But Jolly is convinced the lung illnesses are coming from black market THC cartridges, which contain oil that can be used in e-cigarettes, rather than what’s sold legally in stores.
Joyce Redford, director of the North Shore/Cape Ann Tobacco Policy Program, said she’s heard other vape store owners make the same claim, but insists it’s not true.
Redford was at City Hall on Thursday afternoon conducting a training session for the city’s convenience store owners, to prepare them for when the flavored tobacco and nicotine ban goes into effect on Oct. 1, which was meant to deter the use of youth vaping.
The session was scheduled before the governor’s directive, but addressed the statewide ban as well. Redford said no one, referring to health officials or convenience store owners, got a heads-up about the emergency declaration, which has caused a scramble across the state.
“We understand this is not easy,” said Redford. “It could put some people out of business, but there are deaths across the country that have to do with vaping.”
Baseem Nsier, who owns Nina’s Market on Essex Street, said his customers with nicotine addiction are concerned they will have to go back to smoking cigarettes since vape products won’t be sold.
Despite the concern for business owners, Desmarais and Redford both believe vaping, especially among teens, is an epidemic.
The city’s Board of Health passed a flavor ban in June to try to alleviate the increase of middle and high school vaping. Flavors are designed to entice young people and make vaping more appealing, according to Desmarais.
Two-thirds of the vaping-related lung illness victims are ages 18 to 34 and 16 percent are under 18, according to the CDC.
“They just think it’s the cool thing to do right now,” Desmarais said. “I think it’s important that they understand that vaping, especially at this time, is just as detrimental as smoking cigarettes.”