NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) — Electronic cigarettes is an industry on the move. But parallel to its growth is pushback from health officials, who equate vaping to traditional smoking.
Late last week, Erie County banned vaping in all places that already prohibit smoking, a move that’s left local e-cig shop owners fearful of the future.
Despite the opposition, vaping has grown into a multibillion-dollar business. And it’s become especially popular in western New York, according to industry professionals.
“Normally we do shows on the east coast or southern California, but we chose western New York because of the high smoking rate,” said Steve Mac, an owner of ECC and VPX, which spearhead events like this weekend’s vaping convention in Niagara Falls. “The national average is around 18 percent. And here in Erie and Niagara county, it’s anywhere from 26 to 28 percent.”
It’s become a go-to for people trying to kick the habit of traditional cigarettes.
“Our product does not kill people,” said Andrew Osborne, the owner of Vapor Trail Electronics in south Buffalo. “Our product saves people’s lives. And when the alternative is a product that killed 500,000 people a year, it’s a no-brainer.”
But just as it’s popularity is catapulting into the mainstream with conventions across the country, local governments are starting to speak out against it.
Industry leaders say legislation like what was approved by Erie County legislators on March 27 — which follows the same move in February by the city of Buffalo — is misguided.
“Bans like the Erie ban and bans in other parts of the country, what it’s saying to the outside world is that vaping is bad, or at least as bad as cigarettes,” Mac said. “And that could be off-putting to people who are trying to stop smoking.”
And while vaping remains legal in their own shops or outdoors, local vapor store owners are fearful of the issue snowballing.
“The public vaping bans are bad for our industry because it discourages smokers from switching. It tells people that this is smoking,” Osborne said, pointing to his vaping device known as a mod or AVP. “That it’s just exchanging one habit for another.
“What’s more important is from the small business perspective,” he added. “The bar owners, the offices every business owner has the right to choose for themselves, and what Erie County did was tell every single small business owner that they don’t know how to run their businesses.”