LACONIA — Raven Vape’s closeness to Laconia High School should be a consideration as the state decides whether to give the shop a license to stay in operation, city officials have told the New Hampshire Liquor Commission.
“At last evening’s City Council meeting, the Council voted unanimously to request that the Liquor Commission look into the location of Raven Vape’s shop at 371 Union Avenue in Laconia, specifically as it impacts community health and its close proximity to Laconia High School,” City Manager Scott Myers said in a letter Tuesday to Chief Mark Armaganian, director of the Division of Enforcement and Licensing for the Liquor Commission. “We ask that you take this into consideration in your decision.”
New state regulations require vape shops to be licensed. Feedback is solicited from cities and towns about the location of vaping shops and their impact on the community, said Grace McInnis, a spokeswoman for the commission.
Raven Vapes is just steps away from the high school, where school officials have installed detectors in restrooms to catch students in the act of using e-cigarettes.
A Surgeon General’s advisory says as many as one in five high school students use vaping products, exposing themselves to harmful nicotine at a time when conventional cigarette smoking is in decline.
Tom Slawniak, who owns Raven Vape, says those under age 18 are not allowed in his shop. He notes that a convenience store that sells cigarettes and beer is also close to the school. He said his products can help people who are trying to stop smoking cigarettes.
“Vaping is for adults only, who want to get off of cigarettes,” said Slawniak, who also owns a vape shop in Tilton.
Slawniak said he asks customers if they are trying to end a cigarette habit.
“If they say, ‘No, I just want to try,’ we try to talk them out of it and I’m not even kidding,” he said. “This is a much safer alternative to cigarettes.”
E-cigarettes use heat to vaporize a liquid. People inhale the vapor, which is intended to be safer than breathing in tobacco smoke.
Slawniak said he’s confident he’ll get a license to continue to operate his business.
The SLC'S Armaganian said there is no state rule preventing a vape shop located within a school zone from getting a license.
“The scope is narrow regarding what the Division evaluates when issuing a license,” he said in an email.
The focus is on public safety and violation of existing rules, he said.
“If the municipality presents specific health or safety concerns, a hearing will be scheduled,” Armaganian said. “The city has reached out to us with general concerns about the location and we are awaiting further specifics regarding any safety concerns the city may have before moving forward with next steps.”
Kelley Gaspa, assistant director of Partnership for Public Health, asked the city to provide feedback under the licensing process.
“Although they are not the only vape shop in town, they seem to be the most controversial given their close proximity to the high school,” she said in a letter to city officials. “As you know, youth vaping is a significant public health issue that many local agencies and coalitions are working to address.
“Our office receives a high volume of calls, many of which are from local parents and educators looking for support for their children/students who have either initiated use, are actively using or are addicted and looking for youth treatment options. Access and community norms that promote and favor use are significant risk factors in youth vaping.”
She said the new licensing regulations provide an opportunity for Laconia.
“Not to shut the shop down, but perhaps to relocate it,” she said.
The principals of Laconia, Inter-Lakes, Gilford and Belmont high schools have all listed vaping as one of their top concerns for their students’ health.
In addition to the licensing requirement, starting in January, sales of all of the state’s smoking products, including vaping liquids and devices, are to be restricted to those 19 or older.
One of the ideas behind the new restriction was to make it harder for high school seniors to obtain these products and distribute them to younger classmates.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a national outbreak of lung injury associated with the vaping of products containing THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.