Saskatoon

Vape-shop owner worried customers will go back to cigarettes if shops close due to COVID-19

Vaporizers and nicotine are available at some service and gas stations in the province, but Ian McWalter, one of the owners of Heavy Jam Vape, said a good comparison between the gas stations and the vape shops is like the difference between eating dinner at a convenience store and eating dinner at a restaurant.

However, the Lung Association, Saskatchewan says the pandemic might be a good time to quit

A family-owned vape shop in Saskatoon says some of their customers are worried they won't have access to proper vape supplies if vape shops in the city close because they are not listed as an essential service. (Lindsay Fox, CC Attribution 2.0)

A family-owned vape shop in Saskatoon is worried about their customers returning to cigarettes if they don't have access to the proper supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the end of March, the government of Saskatchewan issued a list of businesses allowed to operate during the pandemic. While cannabis shops and liquor stores were listed as essential services, vape shops were left off the list, causing some to worry. 

"The concern we've been hearing from customers is that it's not going to be available, and they're going back to cigarettes," said Ian McWalter, one of the owners of Heavy Jam Vape Shop, which operates two vape stores in the city.

Vaporizers and nicotine are available at some service and gas stations in the province, but McWalter said a good comparison between the gas stations and the vape shops is like the difference between eating dinner at a convenience store and eating dinner at a proper restaurant. 

The front of Heavy Jam Vape Shop can be seen in this supplied photo. (Supplied/Ian McWalter)

"They don't specialize in anything in particular," said McWalter. "It's basic or entry level devices." 

At vape shops, customers are able to buy different parts for their vaporizer to ensure they're having their needs met in terms of the amount of nicotine being delivered.

For example, a person who used to smoke two packs a day would require a higher dose of nicotine than someone who smokes socially.

"They're so afraid that only cigarettes, in these stressful times, are going to be available and they're going to relapse back to that," he said. 

The store has still been able to serve customers through an online-order and pick-up system, but McWalter said that too has been a challenge, as online demand has been ramping up with little time to prepare.

Ian McWalter, one of the owners at Heavy Jam Vape Shop, says he's been hearing from numerous customers who are concerned about access to vaping supplies if the shop is forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Supplied/Ian McWalter)

According to Johns Hopkins University, while vaping is less harmful than smoking (it exposes users to fewer harmful chemicals), there are still dangers associated with the act. 

However, officials with the Lung Association, Saskatchewan say while they understand that nicotine is an addiction, the pandemic might be a good time to consider cutting back or quitting.

"Anything that's going to compromise your lungs, like smoking or vaping, is going to increase your risk of being susceptible, especially for a virus like COVID-19, which is respiratory infection," said Jennifer May, vice-president of community engagement with the Lung Association.

Jennifer May is the VP of Community Engagement with the Lung Association, Saskatchewan. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

May said while they recognize the pandemic may cause feelings of anxiety or alarm for those who do smoke or vape, there are supports available for people who want to quit. She touched on nicotine patches, gums and inhalers, which are all available at local pharmacies, alongside telephone and text lines people can contact for support.

"This isn't just about to quit or not to quit, this is about preparing your body to be as healthy as it can be to fight in case you do get exposed to this virus," she said.

May also said even the act of smoking may be putting people at risk due to the high-level of hand to mouth contact that occurs while smoking.

In a statement, the government of Saskatchewan said it encourages any business owners feeling the pressure as a result of the pandemic to reach out to the province to find out what kind of supports, both federally and provincially, might be available to them.

"The government of Saskatchewan understands that COVID-19 has caused significant economic hardships for businesses as we all work together to reduce the spread of the virus and keep our neighbours safe," the statement noted.

"That is why we have set up the Business Response Team to help answer any questions businesses may have about available supports and to provide clarity to the operations of allowable business services."

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