VAPING IN THE COVID-19 ERA
Reeling out of 2019, the vape industry was poised to make a significant comeback in 2020 after the “EVALI pandemic” which wreaked havoc sickening hundreds of people in America and Canada (some fatally). It also threatened to shut down the vape industry as a whole. While this “EVALI pandemic” was falsely pinned on the legal vape industry, the truth would eventually come to light that this was indeed an illegal black market THC issue. Nonetheless, unfortunately the vape industry would bear the brunt of the media and government scrutiny.
Fast forward to 2020
We finally get out of the preverbal “vape sunken place” and we find ourselves in the midst of a real pandemic (COVID-19) sweeping the world. And if that couldn’t be dramatic enough, this virus attacks the respiratory system heavily among other things. This new sobering reality for the vape industry has caused many vape shops and vape entrepreneurs to get creative in how they operate. While shelter-in-place and social distancing orders have spread through most of the United States and world at the time of this publication, vape shops being an essential business (depending on your jurisdiction) have had to find new ways to keep their doors open to serve their customers.
This has not been without scrutiny. As vape shops struggle to stay afloat and deliver high quality harm-reduction products to their patrons, there has been a wave of anti-vape legislation and media coverage attacking the industry not only for being able to exist during this pandemic, but also for the methods some vape shops and distributors are using to attract customers. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s examine how our local vape shops have altered their business to serve the community during these unprecedented times.
Essential Or Not?
In many countries and US jurisdictions, vape businesses have been deemed non-essential, and therefore required to temporarily close their brick and mortar shops. This has led many vapers, most of whom are former smokers using e-cigarettes in a bid to stay away from cigarettes, fear that they will be unable to obtain the products.
In most cases ironically, cigarettes remain widely available in stores deemed essential, such as convenience stores, Liquor stores have also been allowed to remain open. However, many vape stores have been limited to selling their products online, and this is proving to be a stumbling block for many, such as the older generation who are technologically illiterate.
Additionally, the small independent vape stores (who tend to have harm reduction at heart) are struggling to remain afloat. Being restricted to online sales leaves them susceptible to fierce competition from larger online vendors.
The New Way
While many vape shops have been consistently changing up the way they handle business transactions following the guidelines of local city/state government and CDC ordinances, this has not been an easy task. Delivering products to the customer varies depending on where you live, but some of the strategies used to accommodate both local guidelines and the customer are not only working but keeping everyone safe. Some of these new strategies implemented are as followed:
Curbside – Curbside pickup, while under normal circumstances would be a great new revenue stream, is now essential for vape shops. The customer is able to call in their order to their local vape shop, which then processes the order and prepares it for customer pick-up. While this may feel tedious or stressful, when we return to normal (hopefully soon) this will be potentially a new additional stream of revenue on top of normal business. Many vape shops plan on continuing with this practice even after the pandemic to accommodate patrons and expand their customer base.
Online (e-commerce) – The internet has changed the retail industry. Obtaining a product used to necessitate a trip to the mall or a local store. People are now using their desktop computers or mobile devices to have merchandise delivered to their doorsteps. Many vape shops who were slow to adopt the e-commerce business model find themselves having to do so out of necessity. While setting up an online shop and getting inventory posted and processing orders is no easy feat, it has become the life blood of many former “brick-and-mortar” only vape shops. Once again, this will serve them well post-COVID-19 as it has surely extended their reach into the community.
Social Distancing – depending on the location, many vape shops have luckily remained open, allowing customers into their establishment. This is not without boundaries. Vape shops that have remained open have predominantly imposed the six feet distancing rule and face mask guidelines proposed by the CDC. We are seeing these measures taken on throughout many industries, this is not particular to the vape industry. These measures are making for a safer customer experience across the country.
Why Are We Still Being Attacked?
Many people outside the vape industry are concerned about the additional health issues vaping can cause on top of this awful pandemic. While there is no evidence to support claims that vaping may make said vaper more susceptible to contracting Coronavirus, there is no concrete evidence to support this. In fact, possibly the opposite.
French researchers are planning to test nicotine patches on Coronavirus patients and front-line health workers after a study suggested vapers and smokers may be much less at risk of contracting the virus. The study at a major Paris hospital suggests a substance in tobacco (possibly nicotine) may be stopping patients who smoke from catching COVID-19. Clinical trials of nicotine patches are awaiting the approval of the country’s health authorities. While nicotine may protect those from the virus, smokers who have caught it often develop more serious symptoms because of the toxic effect of tobacco smoke on the lungs, as stated in the study.
Many of the concerns and complaints have been from groups who were already anti-vaping prior to the up-rising of Coronavirus. At this moment in time, we are seeing paid ad campaigns targeting the vaping industry and the tactics used to retain its customer base. In April The Los Angeles Times published an article targeting the industry with the headline “Tobacco, vaping industries seize opportunities in Coronavirus with freebies, donations”. The article goes on to demonize the sales tactics of the industry as well as scrutinize the selling or giving away of surgical masks with purchases. While it is debatable what should be done with PPE or how it should be distributed, these attacks are a continuous effort to shut down the vape industry. Harm reduction should not be demonized, rather embraced to save lives.
In The End
There may be a silver lining to vape and e-cigarette sales during the extended quarantine. While times may be hard for the moment, those who survive will find their business in a stronger position due to the innovation and resourcefulness of shop owners. The vape industry’s dedication to harm-reduction products for smokers and to weathering the storm is sure to pay off in the end for all parties involved.