AMERICAN FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - The new age limit to buy tobacco products is putting a local vape shop out of business.
The I Vape Shop in American Falls opened only two years ago and has been staying afloat, but the recent change in federal law made it impossible to stay open.
“It’s heartbreaking. I’ve put the last year and a half into this place,” said Johnny Hernandez, co-owner of I Vape.
The provision to raise the age limit from 18 to 21 was a quick turnaround. The president signed the bill on Dec. 20, and the change went into effect immediately.
Marc Richardson, co-owner of I Vape, said it only took 24 hours after it happened for he and his partner to decide to close down the shop.
There's no way for the store to stay profitable without that customer base, he said.
“That was probably, we figured, about 30 to 35 percent of our business. To lose that much income just made it to the point where we’d probably still survive most months, but there was going to be months where we’d have to come out of pocket to even stay open,” Richardson said.
“We know who our customer base is. We know the ages. We ID. You come through the door, you better have your ID out. We know these people. As soon as we saw the books, it was like, ‘Wow. We are hurting,’” Hernandez said.
While Hernandez and Richardson weren't surprised by the new legislation, they didn't expect it to happen so fast.
“We were thinking probably later next year, so for them to skip all the red tape and go straight into effect kind of was a surprise for us," Richardson said.
I Vape Shop announced on Friday the store would be closing. They plan to sell the last of their inventory by Wednesday. Hernandez said that's because of their customers' loyalty and support.
“Within 10 minutes, these doors opened up and it was insane. Some just stopped by to give us a hug, a handshake,” Hernandez said.
I Vape Shop is the only place in American Falls that sells vapes, according to the owners.
Mitchell Mayer, a long-time customer, said he'd have to start driving the half-hour to Pocatello to buy vapes now.
“I spent 160 bucks here a few days ago. I’m probably going to spend another hundred and something to keep myself stocked up,” Mayer said.
Richardson fears that other smoke shops will feel the loss of young customers and lose business, too.
“For the people that are running a vape shop in larger towns, even in Pocatello, I know this is going to hurt them because that is their life, that’s what’s paying the bills,” Richardson said.
Anti-smoking advocates said the higher age limit will make it more difficult for young people to get tobacco. Nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first try smoking by 18 years old, according to the CDC.
Richardson and Hernandez believe the age limit is the wrong way to fix the problem.
“There’s been a lot of frustration from our younger customers. A lot. A lot of them say they’re just going to buy it online. A lot of them say they’ll find it,” Hernandez said.
They've been helping people quit cigarettes through the vape business.
“When I have someone come in that has never smoked before, we actually try to talk them out of vaping," he said. "We’re trying to get people in a better, healthier lifestyle. I smoked and I started vaping: immediately felt better. Everybody that I’ve ever helped, I get the same response every time: I feel better."
Mayer agrees that switching to vaping after smoking cigarettes has improved his life.
“It really does. I do breathe a bit better now,” Mayer said.
I Vape Shop has even lost customers due to helping them kick their nicotine addiction.
“We’ve got a lot (of customers) that don’t even vape anymore. They went from smoking two packs a day, they’re not even vaping anymore,” Hernandez said.
Once the shop is closed, Hernandez and Richardson expect to get other jobs and continue being active members of the American Falls community.