‘We vape, we vote:’ Missoula vape shop owners sound off on Trump, FDA

The Vape Shop manager Tyler Courter, right, waits on customer Caiden Brassington on Friday afternoon at his Brooks Street shop. Missoula vape shop managers and industry leaders are fighting back against health warnings issued this week by state and federal leaders. (Renata Birkenbuel/Missoula Current)

Missoula vape shop owners are fighting back, speaking out and circulating petitions to stop President Donald Trump from signing a federal flavor ban on e-cigarette products.

Following a Food and Drug Administration warning about potentially dire health effects of vaping, the Trump administration said this week it plans to pull most flavored e-cigarette products from the market.

“They’ve scared a lot of people,” said Tyler Courter, manager of The Vape Shop at 2812 Brooks St. “No one’s discussing exactly what’s getting people sick. They need to accept the fact that it’s the cartridges off the black market.”

In interviews, local shops blamed distorted information and pre-filled tetrahydrocannabinol cartridges, probably purchased illegally – not legitimate e-cigarette users who buy from legal, FDA-regulated shops.

Chandler Paskins, The Vape Shop district manager based in Logan, Utah, said: “It’s kind of sad that there’s such lack of true information. … I’ve seen a lot of articles that vaping is killing. All the research that I’ve actually done, the patient has admitted purchasing a pre-filled THC card. It’s what’s hospitalizing them, from what I’ve seen.”

Paskins said his shops strictly check IDs and underage customers are asked to leave immediately.

“I’ve been trying to rally our customers as much as I can,” Paskins said, “to voice our opinion to representatives in the state (Utah). There are petitions going around to put a stop to this.”

He added that “the flavor ban will hurt more adults than it would help the underage usage” and that it could hurt those opting to vape e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking regular tobacco cigarettes.

Paskins estimates that about 95 percent of his overall customer base uses flavored “e-liquids” to get away from conventional tobacco products.

The Vape Shop on Brooks Street in Missoula.

Courter said he’s seen a slight decline in business since the announcements this week.

“Nothing horrible – nothing to scare us yet,” he said. “We want the FDA, CDA and Trump to say it’s bad THC cartridges and not some of the bigger e-juicing companies.”

The Vape Shop has three shops in Montana – Missoula, Billings and Great Falls. Its headquarters is in Logan, Utah.

Montana health officials on Tuesday urged Montanans to consider not using e-cigarettes, or vaping products, amid a nationwide investigation studying serious lung diseases possibly linked to the products.

National health officials are investigating more than 450 potential cases of pulmonary illness related to vaping products, according to the Wall Street Journal. Many of the vaping products contain marijuana. Six deaths, including a Kansas resident over age 50, have been reported.

Vaping industry leaders have taken to social media and posted a complaint hotline to the White House.

“Hey guys, go sign the petition to stop the flavor ban!!,” The Vape Shop’s Missoula outlet posted on its Facebook page. “We the People ask the federal government to take or explain a position on an issue or policy: Stop Donald Trump from signing the federal flavor ban of e-cigarette products.”

The post includes a photo of a vaping product, along with a disclaimer: “This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”

The Vape Shop also posted an explanation disputing the wide reports of lung damage:

“I wanted to take a sec and talk to you guys about the whole ‘lung injury caused by vaping’ epidemic that’s been pretty viral lately. Please don’t stress yourselves out about vaping nicotine products. The FDA and even some health departments have been monitoring vaporization products for the last 3 years.

“The injuries being discussed in these news articles are being caused by poorly made pre-filled THC cartridges. If you read through the whole article most, at least that I saw, do point out towards the end it is these carts and not our regular day to day nicotine vaporizers.”

The Vape Shop shared an Aug. 29, 2019 Vapor Technology Association report “calling out the officials and health departments in charge of these released articles.”

In the statement released before this week’s FDA, White House and state health department announcements, the industry group wrote it strongly condemns “the sale or use of black market products,” such as supposedly manipulated or adulterated vaping products with dangerous THC, THC products, marijuana or synthetic products.

The Vapor Technology Association blames health agencies in general for “failing to distinguish between e-cigarettes and non-nicotine vaporizers.”

Liberty Vapor Smoke, 1609 South Ave. W., reposted the FDA report, warning consumers that they “can help protect themselves by avoiding tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-Containing Vaping Products.”

Liberty Vapor Smoke also posted directions for complaints.

“The White House needs to hear from adult vapers and anyone who loves a vaper! A flavor ban won’t protect our children, but it will kill their parents. We need to light up the switchboard at the White House! 202-456-1414. On your call: The operator will likely ask where they can direct your call. Simply tell the that flavored vapor products saved your life; and tell them: ‘We Vape. We Vote.’ ”

While some argue that e-cigarettes have greatly reduced the epidemic of tobacco cigarette use, other health officials are concerned about the fast-growing industry, which the Wall Street Journal reports will reach $9 billion in sales this year.

Juul Labs Inc., which offers a variety of fruity flavors aimed at young users, dominates the market.

Among the respiratory symptoms reported by e-cigarette users in recent weeks are coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain, plus nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, fever, fatigue and weight loss.

“Sometimes symptoms rapidly develop over a few days, or they could build slowly over several weeks. Most patients also have a high white blood cell count, a sign that the body’s immune system is on high alert,” according to the Wall Street Journal, adding that “many investigators believe it is likely caused by something new, such as an additive or toxin in the products or devices.”

Most of the reported cases have occurred within the last several months.

Alex Azar, Health and Human Services secretary said a 2019 government survey revealed an “alarming” jump in teen use of e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol flavors mentioned in Trump’s ban.

The preliminary data showed that more than 25 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019 – up from 21 percent a year earlier. Most youth vapers said they use fruit, menthol or mint flavors.