PORT CHARLOTTE — As officials in Washington, D.C., continue discussing the possibility of a ban on flavored tobacco, including e-juice, one local vape store is planning its grand opening.
Serenity Vape, a family business owned by father and son John and Justin Sullivan, along with John’s nephew Jonathan Sullivan, has set its grand opening for Dec. 1. The store has been open since the summer, but is getting a new sign and will offer a 20% discount to customers the week following the official opening.
Earlier this year, business slowed down for the Sullivans, as news of a mysterious vaping-related illness with cases across the country. As of Nov. 13, 2,172 cases of lung injury had been associated with e-cigarette or vaping product use in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories. Forty-two deaths were confirmed in 24 states and the District of Columbia.
But on Nov. 19 the Centers for Disease Control linked the cases to vitamin E acetate, used as a thickening agent in THC-containing e-cigarette products.
“We definitely saw just a virtual standstill for the first couple weeks,” said Jonathan Sullivan. “Now it’s started picking up again.”
Sullivan said that he and his uncle and cousin are still nervous, because if a ban did go through, that would be about 90 percent of their business.
A House panel Tuesday advanced a ban on flavored tobacco that’s much more sweeping than the one proposed by President Donald Trump two months ago. The measure, approved by a 28-24 vote, would ban all flavored tobacco products, raise the purchasing age to 21 nationwide, and ban online sales to curb teen tobacco use.
But Justin Sullivan stands by the fact no reputable businesses are selling the THC-products that are making users sick.
“No vaping oil brand or anything that’s not black market uses that type of oil,” he said. “I’ve been vaping for seven years, and I’ve never had any lung problems or anything like that. This stuff pops up in the past six months, maybe a year. I knew there was something off right away. It’s black-market stuff.
“As long as you’re buying from a reputable place, you should be okay.”
CDC researchers note, however, that while vitamin E acetate appears to be associated with the vaping illness, “evidence is not yet sufficient to rule out contribution of other chemicals of concern.”
“Many different substances and product sources are still under investigation, and it may be that there is more than one cause of this outbreak,” a CDC report noted.
For Justin, however, vaping was the thing that finally helped him quit smoking after 25 years.
“I tried everything to quit,” he said. “I tried patches, pills, gum, just cold turkey, nothing really worked, but within a couple weeks of vaping, I’m completely off cigarettes. Now I haven’t smoked in seven years.”
The Sullivans have told the Sun in prior interviews the majority of their customers are middle-aged and older clientele, many of whom are using vaping to stop smoking. It’s not teenagers trying to buy vape items, and they check all IDs to make sure their customers are of age.
Jonathan Sullivan said one customer used vaping to stop smoking, then eventually quit nicotine completely.
“He just gave us his old vape stuff, because not only had he quit smoking through vaping, he stopped vaping,” Sullivan said. “He’s not the only person who’s had that experience.”
Sullivan said there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and he hopes the grand opening will be an opportunity to educate customers and encourage them to do their own research. They also sell CBD, which he uses to manage pain from fibromyalgia, and he hopes the older population in Charlotte County can benefit from it as well.
“We’re all excited about the grand opening and it’s exactly because of this ban,” Sullivan said. “This is a moment for all of us to take on the readers who normally just look at headlines and get people start reading for their own sake.”