By Jason Starr
The Essex Reporter
By opening an electric cigarette shop on Park Street in Essex Junction this fall, Alexandra Morano believes she can help wean smokers off cigarettes.
Essex CHIPS Prevention and Wellness Director Matt Whalen sees it just the opposite way. E-cigarettes —or “vaporizers,” as they are known — with their flavorized vapors and smoother smoking experience, are a more accessible hook for young people into a smoking habit.
Morano’s as yet unnamed “vape shop” is due to open in November. She was working this week to finalize an Oct. 1 lease start with the Lincoln Development Group, owners of the Lincoln Inn. The space, located in the “Flanders Building” at 12 Park St. just south of the Lincoln Inn, formerly housed a Met Life insurance office.
Morano is planning a month’s worth of renovations to turn the space into a retail outlet with a tasting bar where customers can sample different flavors of nicotine liquid. She plans to sell electronic cigarettes and varieties of the liquid nicotine that the e-cigarettes vaporize into a consumable smoke. The ability to taste different liquid flavors before buying is a key part of the business as it is something online retailers can’t offer, she said.
“I believe in the product from a quit-smoking standpoint,” said Morano, a native of New Jersey who previously sold e-cigarettes from a kiosk in a New York City mall. “I am not trying to get anyone addicted to nicotine. I am trying to get people off of nicotine. It’s not proven, but this is the most effective quit-smoking product to have ever come on the market. I have hope that people will eventually see that.”
CHIPS is grant-funded by the State of Vermont to help keep kids off tobacco. While e-cigarettes do not technically fall under that purview, their recent rise is commanding attention from CHIPS staff. According to Whalen — who cited statistics gathered in a National Center for Disease Control study — use of e-cigarettes among high-schoolers in the United States jumped to 13 percent last year from 4 percent the year before. Four years ago, just 1.5 percent of high-schoolers reported using them. At the middle school level, roughly 4 percent of students were users last year, up from roughly 1 percent the previous two years.
Said Whalen: “(Retailers) are allowed to sell fruit and candy flavored e-cigarettes, and that is appealing to children … The fact they are not FDA regulated is alarming.”
He said regulations are lagging behind the industry, allowing companies to market to children and sell liquids with widely varying levels of nicotine.
“It is certainly alarming stuff, and it’s not anything we would want to expose anyone in our town to,” Whalen said.
Vermont is one of 12 states to have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Also, e-cigarettes must be displayed in cases that are accessible only with assistance from a store employee.
Bill Goggins, the director of education, licensing and enforcement for the Vermont Department of Liquor Control, estimates that a dozen vaporizer stores have opened in Vermont in the past two years. They are licensed through the department as if they are selling tobacco, he said. The licensing includes an inspection of the shop and a background investigation of the business owners.
“Vaping has become very popular,” Goggins said.
Morano plans to secure a tobacco license after remodeling her space.
Two years ago, Whalen helped lead a citizen charge against the licensing of the Up In Smoke tobacco shop on Railroad Avenue. The Vermont Department of Liquor Control held the business’ tobacco license hearing in Essex to maximize public input. While acknowledging public opposition to increasing the availability of unhealthy products near local schools, the department granted the permit. Up in Smoke has been open since the fall of 2013, selling glass pipes, bongs, cigars, cigarettes and electric cigarettes.
After Up in Smoke opened, The Board of Village Trustees attempted to re-word village zoning regulations to cap the number of tobacco licenses that can be issued in the village. But village officials realized they lacked the authority to do so, according to Village President George Tyler.
“I would prefer not to see (a vaporizer shop), but we haven’t put anything in place that would prevent something like that from opening,” he said. “We would like to have done it, but state authority trumps us on issues like that.”