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'Thank You, Gov. Baker': N.H. Vape Shops See Rush After Mass. Ban04:39
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The parking lot in front of Smoker Choice in Salem, New Hampshire, was filled with cars from Massachusetts on a recent day. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The parking lot in front of Smoker Choice in Salem, New Hampshire, was filled with cars from Massachusetts on a recent day. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Boston, Everett and Holbrook are just some of the places that Massachusetts residents drove from on a recent weekday to get to Smoker Choice, a vape shop just across the border in Salem, New Hampshire.

Store manager Ali Shaikh says he's had a rush of Massachusetts customers.

"We always saw a lot of people from Massachusetts but they were mostly people that weren't 21 yet," Shaikh says. "All of a sudden the rush we got, it's people of all ages, all kinds of people."

Stores in New Hampshire certainly see their share of Massachusetts customers looking to escape the state sales tax or age restrictions on tobacco products. But Shaikh says his sales have increased about 30% since Massachusetts banned the sale of vaping products.

Other smoke shops in New Hampshire say they've seen a surge in business after Massachusetts implemented a four-month ban on the sale of vaping products. The ban was put in place in response to growing reports of vaping-related lung illnesses and some deaths across the country. Massachusetts reported its first vaping-related death on Monday.

Medical experts continue to investigate the cause of vaping-related illnesses. In the meantime, some Massachusetts residents are going out of state to buy vaping products.

"No matter where I gotta go, I'm going to go and get them," says Dennis Yebba, who drove to Smoker Choice from Everett with his cousin to pick up vape juices. "If they ban them over here, then I'll go to the next state that's got 'em, you know. I think it's stupid that they banned it, and I'm going to keep vaping anyways."

Dennis Yebba made the trip up to Salem, N.H., and holds three bottles of vaping juice just purchased at Smoker Choice including the cotton candy flavored Pink Squares Ejuice by Candy King. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Dennis Yebba made the trip up to Salem, N.H., and holds three bottles of vaping juice just purchased at Smoker Choice including the cotton candy flavored Pink Squares Ejuice by Candy King. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Some people want to keep vaping because they don't want to turn back to cigarettes. That's why Israel Rolon of Boston came to Smoker Choice. He used to smoke cigarettes and says he feels better since he switched to vaping.

"I feel like they're just trying to push us back to cigarettes. So instead of doing that, came up here [and] grabbed the pods," says Rolon.

Rolon bought 10 packs of mint pods and 10 packs of tobacco pods, which are inserted into an electronic cigarette for vaping.

"That should last me the length of the ban, or at least until CDC tells us that we should stop smoking them," Rolon says.

For now, the CDC says people should consider not vaping, and the agency says those who vape because they quit cigarettes should monitor themselves for symptoms of lung illness.

Israel Rolon, of Boston, purchases enough Juul pods to last four months, or until the temporary vaping ban is over, at Smoker Choice in Salem, N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Israel Rolon, of Boston, purchases enough Juul pods to last four months, or until the temporary vaping ban is over, at Smoker Choice in Salem, N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Massachusetts ban on sales of vaping products also applies to marijuana. And that frustrates Boston-area resident Barbara Cote, who uses medical marijuana to relieve pain. She was at Smoker Choice to buy smoking accessories and says vaping works best for her. She'd like to see the ban lifted for medical marijuana dispensaries.

"I'd like to see them at least release the [vape] cartridges for the medical dispensaries. Do that first because you know it's tested, you know people are going to where they're going to get the same thing, and it's been checked over and over," Cote says.

The Massachusetts ban has frustrated businesses in the state. Several vape shops have sued over the ban, and some have been forced to close. The state has since clarified that stores can sell their vaping products online to out-of-state customers.

Meanwhile, the ban has been a bit of a boon for vape shops in New Hampshire, according to state Rep. Fred Doucette, who stops into Smoker Choice to buy a carton of cigarettes.

"Thank you, [Massachusetts] Gov. [Charlie] Baker because you're driving revenue for our small business here," says Doucette. He adds that New Hampshire isn't likely to implement a ban.

"Until such a time there's specific evidence we're not going to negate small business and people's freedoms in the state New Hampshire. That's just not what we do here," Doucette says.

Ethan Woodman of Methuen, Mass., tests out a SMOK Species vaping device at Smoker Choice in Salem,. N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Ethan Woodman of Methuen, Mass., tests out a SMOK Species vaping device at Smoker Choice in Salem,. N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Ali Shaikh, manager of Smoker Choice in Salem, N.H., demonstrates the SMOK Species vaping device. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Ali Shaikh, manager of Smoker Choice in Salem, N.H., demonstrates the SMOK Species vaping device. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Baker recently told WCVB-TV that he considered the impact of the ban on businesses.

"One of the most difficult elements of this decision was ‘what about the store owners?’" Baker said. "But the flip side of that is to continue to have the store owners sell something when I just had a whole room full of medical experts tell me that this is potentially extremely harmful and possibly fatal, and nobody really understands why — just made no sense to us at all."

But the longer the ban goes on, the less effective it will be, according to James Hoopes, who teaches business history and ethics at Babson College. He says with time, more informal networks will develop, and people may turn to the black market.

Still, he says the ban will limit at least some people's access to vaping products.

"It will be partially successful because after all, it's an hour drive from Boston to New Hampshire or to Rhode Island," Hoopes says. "I think it's a safe bet that there are some people who are vaping who aren't going to drive an hour to get the product."

But for those who do, there are plenty of stores on the border ready to take their business.

Shelves of vaping juices along a wall at Smoker Choice in Salem, N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Shelves of vaping juices along a wall at Smoker Choice in Salem, N.H. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

This segment aired on October 9, 2019.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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