Amid recent reports of vaping-related illness, injury and death, local vape shops are feeling the negative impacts.

“It is destroying us,” said Taylor Amaya, manager of Artisan Vapor & CBD in McKinney. “It’s really destroying the vaping industry, and it is putting a lot of people out of jobs.”

According to Amaya, several area vape shops have gone out of business.

“We are not a mom-and-pop business, so we will be able to survive it all, but a lot of mom-and-pop businesses in the area that are vape shops have been forced to close down and actually have declared bankruptcy,” Amaya said.

Sales have taken a hit as well. Schell Hammel, owner of The Vapor Bar, which has several locations throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, including one in McKinney, said her stores have seen a 19%-35% drop in sales since reports first surfaced in August.

About 600 businesses in Texas sold vapor products in 2018, according to market research conducted by the Texas Vapor Coalition, a vaping advocacy nonprofit.

But up to 20% of these stores are no longer open, TVC Executive Director Jay Maguire said. He attributes this to the negative stigma around vaping.

In early November, the CDC identified vitamin E acetate as a chemical of concern. This is a substance commonly used to bulk up THC in vapes, according to the CDC—especially those which can be found on the black market. The CDC found that the majority of lung tissue samples taken from victims of vaping-related illness contained evidence of vitamin E acetate.

Maguire said this announcement from the CDC proves what vaping advocate groups have been saying.

“Vaping illegal THC liquids distributed by drug dealers has caused thousands of illnesses and several deaths but should not be confused [with] FDA-registered products sold at vape shops,” Maguire said.

Moving backwards

More than 13 million former smokers in the U.S. use vapor products as smoking cessation devices, Maquire said.

But their access to these vapes could become even more limited.

In September, the CEO of Walmart announced it would stop selling vaping products. A month later, Walgreens and Kroger did the same.

Many people who use vaping to help them quit smoking could easily circle back to smoking cigarettes, according to vaping advocacy group leaders.

The negative publicity is not only driving customers away, but it is also turning former cigarette smokers back toward smoking, Amaya said.

“All it is doing is causing people to go back to the thing that they wanted to quit originally,” she said.

People now believe that vaping is just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, Amaya said.

Finding a compromise

In mid-October, JUUL, the largest e-cigarette manufacturer in the U.S., suspended its sales of flavored pods.

“We must reset the vapor category by earning the trust of society and working cooperatively with regulators, policymakers and stakeholders to combat underage use while providing an alternative to adult smokers,” JUUL Labs CEO K.C. Crosswaite said in a statement.

While banning flavored e-liquids could lead to a decrease in the number of underage users, some believe it will cause an uptick in cigarette usage among adults who rely on flavored pods to remain smoke-free.

“Despite a lot of rhetoric, flavors are incredibly important to adult smokers getting off cigarettes,” said Greg Conley, president of the New Jersey-based American Vaping Association.

Conley’s organization believes lawmakers and the FDA should focus instead on tightening regulations on high-nicotine e-liquids.

“If it was properly regulated, you could discourage improper usage of the products,” Conley said. “You’re never going to be able to eliminate youth experimentation.”

Olivia Lueckemeyer and Elizabeth Uclés contributed to this story.