Vaping ban is ‘devastating’ for Vapeology's Taunton store

TAUNTON – Amanda Georgoulias has some choice words for Gov. Charlie Baker and his four-month ban on all vaping products.
Unfortunately some of them can’t be printed.
After pausing a moment to compose herself, the owner of Vapeology Store at 232 Broadway explained why she thinks the governor made a mistake issuing a “declaration of emergency” on Tuesday — forcing stores and shops across the commonwealth to curtail sales and, in many cases, including hers, to shut down altogether.
“He made a rash decision and didn’t think about its effect,” Georgoulias said. “It went way too far, and I will not be voting for him again.”

Georgoulias, 33, says that she and her husband have played strictly by the rules since opening their first all-vape store five years ago in West Bridgewater.

The Taunton Vapeology Store opened a year and a half ago.

She said every ID of each customer is scanned and checked before they are allowed to come in.

Baker’s declaration took effect immediately upon its announcement.

For Georgoulias that means not just taking a loss in terms of her and her husband’s monetary investment, but also saying farewell to six Taunton employees, all of whom are now out of work.

“It’s heartbreaking, devastating to watch everything I’ve worked so hard for to crumble in front of my eyes,” she said.

Georgoulias says she, her husband and their two daughters, ages six and seven, recently moved into a home in Kingston.

The two stores, she said, represent her life’s savings.

“I’ve got two kids and a mortgage, and I don’t know how we’re going to survive. I mean they really screwed us,” Georgoulias said.

Baker’s emergency declaration refers to seven confirmed deaths and 530 cases of severe lung disease across the country associated with recreational vaping.

All the reported cases, the declaration states, included the use of vaping products containing THC, the active ingredient in marijuana; nicotine; or a combination of THC and nicotine.

The move to impose restrictions or ban outright the sale of vaping products such as e-cigarettes and assorted accessories has been gaining momentum.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo on Wednesday announced a statewide ban, expected to take effect next week, on “flavored” vaping products including pods and liquids.

Raimondo’s executive order follows a recent and similar restriction implemented in New York state.

President Donald Trump has also proposed a federal ban on flavored vaping products because of their appeal to children.

Georgoulias and her Taunton general manager Kevin Fernandes accuse Baker of relying on faulty data.

“It’s not based on facts,” Georgoulias says.

They blame black-market, THC-infused pods and liquid for the vape-related illnesses and deaths.

Georgoulias says Baker should be more concerned with what’s come to be known as the Methadone Mile on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston.

Fernandes said it’s unrealistic to think his boss would be able to reopen her stores four months from now, if in fact Baker does not extend his emergency declaration or initiate a permanent ban.

He says all products are paid for up front and not on credit to distribution companies specializing in vaping goods.

Fernandes, 34, also points out that the store’s vape “juices” have expiration dates and eventually lose their original nicotine potency.

He estimated the Taunton store had been stocked with as much as $200,000-worth of vape juices.

Fernandes spent most of Wednesday clearing his shelves of merchandise in anticipation of locking the front door of the business, which was located near a busy intersection in a small plaza next to a Dunkin’ Donuts.

At one point Adam Vickstrom, assistant executive director with the city’s board of health, walked in to drop off a copy of the governor’s emergency declaration and make sure the store was in compliance.

Georgoulias said the state never should have allowed convenience stores in the first place to stock and sell vaping merchandise.

Doing so, she said, has opened the door for the sale of questionable and potentially harmful products.

Fernandes said his phone had been ringing off the hook all day with calls from customers and even some other vape-shop owners calling to lend moral support and express their regret.

Georgoulias said the support from customers who came into her stores to help pack up merchandise and say goodbye was overwhelming.

The Taunton store with its vape bar, stools and plush chairs, Fernandes said, was more than just a retail shop.

He said regular customers typically hung out on Friday nights to vape, watch movies and sometimes compete in vaping games.

Chris Roy was one of those customers.

“I need a steady supply of nicotine,” he said.

Roy, 34, said it’s been seven years since he switched from smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes a day to vaping, during which time he says he’s reduced his nicotine dosage.

Now, he says, he might have to begin smoking again to satisfy that long-term habit.

“I’ve gotten down to one or two bottles (of vape juice) a week,” said Roy, who says he began smoking cigarettes when he was 12.

Fernandes also noted many smokers and vape users have what is known as a “hand to mouth fixation.”

Tom Smith of Taunton describes himself as a former two-packs-a-day smoker who a couple years ago began vaping, which allowed him to cut down to half a pack a day.

“I hope I don’t go back to being a full-blown smoker again, especially since I have lung problems,” Smith, 33, said, referring to surgery he had on a lung.

He also said the expense of buying cigarettes is punishing: “That’s the biggest problem for me.”

Georgoulias says her husband is in Europe trying to make deals to sell a vape mod, or mechanical operating device.

“But the store is our main income,” she said

By Charles Winokoor
Taunton Gazette Staff Reporter