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Vape store owners close amid new taxes, stricter rules in Washington

Sep 30, 2019, 3:47 PM
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Seattle's Greenlake Vapor store is closing ahead of Washington's vape sales tax that takes effect on October 1st. (Aaron Granillo/KIRO Radio)
(Aaron Granillo/KIRO Radio)

The shelves were nearly empty at Seattle’s Greenlake Vapor on Monday as the store prepared to close its doors amid new state taxes and regulations on vaping products.

“It is closing day,” said owner Dennis Nelson. “We are officially done tonight. Greenlake Vapor will no longer exist in Seattle.”

Gov. Inslee announces ban on flavored vape products statewide

The closure came one day before Washington’s new sales tax on all vapor products takes effect. The bill puts a new 27-cents-per-millileter tax on “closed” vapor products such as JUUL pods, a form of e-cigarettes. Products that are considered “open” or refillable, will be taxed at nine cents per millimeter.

Half of the tax revenues will go toward the Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment Fund. The rest will go to public health efforts to stopping smoking and enforcement.

Owners like Nelson feared the tax would force them to go bankrupt, some saying it would double their costs.

“There could be a lot of other shops that have decided to stay open that could end up suffering,” Nelson said.

The new tax passed during the most recent legislative session, months before people started getting sick and sometimes dying from vaping-related illnesses. Nationwide, there have been 13 deaths linked to vaping and more than 800 illnesses, including seven in Washington.

“Our state hasn’t had any dollars to go out and do testing of these products,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet, who sponsored the vape sales tax. “We’re saying let’s use that stream of money to start enforcement.”

No common link exists in any of the vaping-related illnesses. Some people who’ve fallen ill said they were using THC, a psychoactive chemical in cannabis. Others reported vaping only nicotine. There is no product or device common to all of the cases. Some speculate, however, chemicals in vapor flavoring products may be to blame.

“What’s happening today in the last year that’s creating the problem? We believe it’s an additive, we believe it’s an ingredient,” said Rick Garza, Director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Garza was at the news conference last Friday when Governor Jay Inslee signed an emergency executive order, calling for a ban on all flavoring products. If approved by state Board of Health, it would affect both nicotine and THC products starting on October 10.

“These flavors exist for one reason and one reason only. And that is to make them appealing to young children,” Inslee said.

The state Liquor and Cannabis Board says Washington has approximately 4,000 electronic-cigarette retailers and 500 licenses cannabis businesses. Some in the industry confronted Inslee on Friday, saying his action would push customers to the black market and force stores to close.

“I will have to put my LLC into bankruptcy,” said Margo Ross, who has owned Cloud 509 Moses Lake for two years. “I am not going to be able to afford the bills I have.”

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Vape store owners close amid new taxes, stricter rules in Washington