Meet Rob Taylor, a small business guy who welcomes a little state oversight.
Taylor is a manager at Amerivape Smoke Shop, which sells pipe tobacco, e-cigarettes, e-liquids and smoking accessories at four shops around the Capital Region. Because the company sells tobacco, it’s subject to state oversight. The owner had to get a license and pass a background check. Each retail store had to register with the state.
For stores that sell only electronic cigarettes, there are no such rules.
“It’s these vape-only shops that are slowly coming in, popping up,” Taylor said. “Vaping is a completely unregulated industry in New York state right now. The guy who sells you liquid at his mom-and-pop store, where is he getting it from? How is he making it? You can do it the really, really cheap way, or you can do it the right way.”
As more vape shops open in the Capital Region, activists and entrepreneurs alike are urging oversight at the state level. Vendors can’t sell to minors, and their e-liquid must come with childproof caps, but other than that, the market’s a free-for-all.
Vape shops have been popular out west and down south for years, catering to smokers who are desperate to quit and hobbyists who treat the mixing and the smoking and the acquisition of accessories
as a sport. In recent years, they’ve begun popping up in the Capital Region.
Amerivape started selling the stuff back in 2011 at its first smoke shop in Cohoes. The company manufactures and develops pharmaceutical-grade e-liquids in a clean room, Taylor said, and is strict about who it sells and markets to. In recent years, the company has opened other shops in Mechanicville, Ballston Spa and Burnt Hills. They cater to both smokers looking for tobacco products and people hoping e-cigarettes can help them quit.
With the recent arrival of a vape-only shop just down the road in Burnt Hills, Amerivape decided to close its Route 50 location and reopen in Clifton Park. The new store will open Monday, Taylor said.
“I’ve been in other vape stores,” he said. “One of the things I dislike about them is they seem to be drawing kids. They seem to want a younger crowd. Our average customer is probably 30, and there’s nobody in here trying to make a bigger cloud than the next person. That’s really not my clientele. More than 90 percent of them are just here to quit smoking.”
It’s been a year since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed new regulations for e-cigarettes, but none have gone into effect yet, drawing the ire of public health experts who say the market needs regulation given the skyrocketing use among young people. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report out last week showed e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled between 2013 and 2014, from 4.5 percent to 13.4 percent, a jump from about 660,000 students to 2 million.
Mike and Talia Kruger opened their first vape shop — GottaVape — in Rotterdam in 2013. They got the idea after a brief stay in North Carolina, where they witnessed an abundance of vape shops.
“Down south, these shops are very popular,” said Mike Kruger, who was born and raised in Rotterdam. “We saw that they were really helping people and knew we could do the same thing here.”
In December 2014, just 13 months after opening their first shop in Rotterdam, the couple opened one in Burnt Hills. Their arrival spooked the nearby town of Glenville, which just imposed a six-month moratorium on new vape shops (along with strip clubs, adult video stores, pawn shops, massage parlors, second-hand dealers or thrift stores planning to come to town).
Business was so good the Krugers decided to open a third Capital Region location just six months later. On Friday, they held a grand opening at the new shop, which occupies a little storefront next to Boulevard Bowl in downtown Schenectady. They’re hoping to see added business once the casino comes to town.
“We really feel Schenectady is the future of where we need to be,” Kruger said. “That’s where the business is headed in the coming years. There’s a lot of good things happening here.”
Almost all of their customers are former smokers looking to stay off cigarettes, he said.
“Some people do it as a hobby, but most of them are people who’ve tried the gum, the patches, Chantix,” he said. “This gives them everything they’re looking for: nicotine, hand-to-mouth, without the tobacco. T
“here are vape shops that cater to young people. You walk in and there’s hip-hop music playing. But our goal is to get people off nicotine. One of our first customers was in her late 70s, early 80s. She smoked every day of her life until her daughter bought a starter kit from us.”
Judy Rightmyer wonders, if they’re not trying to appeal to kids, why open within a half-mile of middle and high schools?
“The two that opened in Burnt Hills were smack dab in the middle of the high school and middle school,” she said. “That is definitely a concern to me.”
Rightmyer, director of the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition, confirmed there are currently no local regulations or licenses required for Capital Region retailers looking to sell electronic smoking devices. No one really knows yet how safe e-cigarettes are, she said, or if they work over the long term as a smoking cessation device. But her biggest concern is the market’s blatant appeal to children, she said.
“When you advertise strawberry and bubble gum and fruit-flavored liquid nicotine, you’re advertising to young people,” she said. “For me, it’s a public health concern to see the rise in the number of places selling these devices. When people use vaping pens it makes the act of smoking look acceptable or cool maybe to our young people. Anything that makes this look like a social norm is going to increase tobacco use in our young people, and that’s not good for the health of our kids and families.”