The headlines and official health advisories over the past few months have been shocking to some: Two vaping-related deaths and 21 people with vaping-related lung injuries in Georgia alone.
And at first, health officials weren’t sure what exactly in the vaping devices was causing the illnesses and fatalities. Calls to eliminate flavored vaping juices ran rampant as concerns over youth being attracted to the sweet substances grew.
Only recently did the Centers for Disease Control release a statement identifying vitamin E acetate in illegal black-market THC oil as the culprit. This is a substance vaping shops do not carry.
By then, the damage already had been done to Rome vaping shops, causing The Cloud Shack on Garden Lakes Boulevard to permanently close Nov. 9 and Summit Mist Vapors on Broad Street to lose 40% of its business when the negative news was at its peak.
“It was so sad to see The Cloud Shack close,” Summit Mist Vapors owner Ken Callaway said Friday. “That really hurt. It was a mother and son who didn’t do anything wrong and they had to let some good employees go. I had to let one employee go, too, and we all cried. By no fault of their own, people are losing their jobs and businesses because of this misinformation that is still affecting us.”
There are now four shops left in Rome that sell only vaping-related juices and devices. Some stores sell vaping products along with tobacco products and “head shop” items such as bongs, according to Callaway. His shop at 522 Broad St. caters exclusively to those who vape and offers a “bar” and “lounge” for them to hang out for as long as they please, he said.
“Some people who don’t even vape just come to study or visit with my cat,” Callaway said with a chuckle.
On The Cloud Shack’s Facebook page, owner Shea Dale posted Nov. 6: “It is with a super heavy heart that we are announcing our closing of your favorite Shack,” the post said. “It has been an absolute honor to serve this community with the very best smoking cessation tool that has ever existed. Times are trying and we have pushed through as hard as we could. Come see us and say goodbye!”
Dale’s post concluded with hashtags “#fakenews” “#businessclosing.” Efforts to reach Dale for comment by press time were not successful.
Callaway said he understands the concerns about e-juice flavors attracting young people, but he believes teens have always experimented with smoking one thing or another and it might has well be a product that has so far been deemed safer than tobacco cigarettes.
“I started smoking cigarettes when I was 13 and I smoked for over 20 years before I discovered e-cigs and vaping,” he said. “I climb mountains and I had always struggled as a smoker, coughing up some funky stuff and battling bronchitis twice a year. Since I’ve been vaping, my lungs have cleared, I have more energy and I don’t get sick like I used to.”
Callaway did admit the pindrive-sized Juul products so popular with teenagers are bothersome simply because their ease of concealment and low price make them a favorite for smuggling into schools and causing disruptions.
Glenn White, Floyd County Schools director of student services, said Friday teachers and school administrators continue to catch secondary students with vaping pens on a regular basis despite new penalties that include two days of out-of-school suspension for the first violation, 10 days of suspension and a recommendation for assignment to the Transitional Academy for the third time their caught and long-term suspension or expulsion for violating district policy four or more times.
So far, no students have been expelled or sent to the Transitional Academy, White said.
“This is definitely an issue in our schools and on buses,” White said. “It’s worse in high schools and we’ve had very few in the elementary schools — like two fifth graders. I think some vaping products need to be banned, especially the flavored juices.”
Callaway carries about 70 different flavors of e-juice in his shop, from peanut butter roll and granola bar to raspberry cotton candy and vanilla custard.
He firmly believes he’s helping Romans be healthier and happier than when they smoked traditional cigarettes containing thousands of toxic chemicals.
“I have an 80-year-old guy who had horrible COPD from smoking for many years,” said White, who opened his shop six years ago when he realized he could sell a product he could be proud of. “This guy is doing so much better now and loves the peanut butter roll flavor. I just hope this hysteria and misinformation about vaping subsides so those of us actually trying to run an honest business can continue to thrive.”