With the enactment of a temporary ban on flavored vape cartridges, otherwise known as E-Liquid, display cases at local convenience stores and headshops look a little different now. One local store, however, looks markedly changed.

The Washington State Board of Health voted to enact the 120-day ban at a meeting on Wednesday. As a result, the shelves in 509 Vape Shop in Ellensburg were completely bare Thursday, the first day the temporary ban took effect.

A customer walked in, peering over the empty shelves and asked if there was any flavored juice left for sale. She was informed that it was illegal to sell them anymore and the only products left were unflavored and tobacco-flavored liquids. Her response was a combination of confusion and exasperation.

“I’m so (expletive) pissed right now,” she said.

509 Vape Regional Manager Brendan Killeen said that was the general reaction for anyone who came into the shop Thursday. He estimates that 99 percent of the E-Liquid sold at the store was flavored prior to the ban, further explaining the almost complete lack of product available Thursday.

“These shelves at one point were literally stuffed to capacity along with two industrial shelves in the back,” Killeen said. “I’ve got a couple bottles of tobacco-flavored E-Liquid left, which is all that’s allowed to be sold now outside of unflavored E-Liquid.”

Killeen said customers made a rush on the store Wednesday to purchase what they could before the ban went into effect. What was left was removed from the store, inventoried and photographed for the state before being disposed of.

“It was insane yesterday,” he said. “That’s what happens when you ban a product. People will get it while it’s legal still.”

Looking around at the chalkboards that regulars used to share messages and art, Killeen reflected on the notion that the shop was used as a gathering place that formed a sense of community for some, and that consensus among the regulars was that the ban could spell an end to that.

“We’ve been here half a decade,” he said. “This is where a lot of the 18-to-20 crowd would just come and hang out instead of going to house parties and stuff like that.”

As the ban was announced and customers filed in to get the product before it was no longer available, Killeen said he saw a mix of emotions amongst them.

“There was a lot of anger towards the Governor,” he said. “Generally, a lot of people were just upset and saddened.”

As incidents of vaping-related illnesses and deaths have permeated the recent news cycle, Killeen pointed out that the majority of those cases have been linked to THC cartridges purchased on the black market. Those discoveries, along with heightened regulation with the tobacco purchasing age being raised to 21 within the state left Killeen disappointed that the vaping industry is being demonized.

“I’m not altogether surprised, but it is frustrating to say the least,” he said. “At the end of the day, the anti-vaping lobby has pulled out all the stops to push their agenda.”

When it comes to enforcing age restrictions, Killeen said compliance rates for dedicated vape shops are extremely high, and the Ellensburg store has been a direct example of that.

“The major points of youth access in this community are from gas stations and the smoke shops,” he said. “We have not had a single minor sale in five years. That’s why we I.D. people on entry.”

With the ban in place, Killeen said he believes many of his customers will return to conventional tobacco smoking. He pointed out one case of a customer of his who had smoked approximately 10 packs of cigarettes a day before switching to vaping.

“She hasn’t smoked in two years,” he said. “If you can take basically a 35-year addiction and move away from that to an alternative that what the U.K. and Canada say is less harmful, why would you restrict that?”

Looking forward to the future, Killeen said regulations like age restrictions and confining flavored liquid sales to dedicated vape shops may be a viable path. He pointed out that Utah recently passed laws along those lines. However, in Washington for the meantime, stores like the one in Ellensburg are shutting down for business.

“I don’t think there’s any business that can go and have basically the entirety of what it had for sale banned for a full fiscal quarter and survive that,” he said. “At this point you can’t help but laugh at it. It’s just that absurd.”

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