Tom Slawniak, owner of Raven Vape, defended his right to operate his business, during a hearing held last Friday on his application for a sales permit. His request for the permit was granted Thursday by the state. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun photo)

LACONIA — The state Liquor Commission voted Thursday to grant a license to the Raven Vape Shop, located next to Laconia High School.

The vote came just one week after a hearing in Laconia at which some urged the license be denied because the store was next door to the high school, while the shop’s owner and others argued that denying the license would be discrimination.

“The license will be issued as soon as (the owner) goes down to the Liquor Commission Enforcement office and fills out the paperwork and pays the fee,” Liquor Commission spokeswoman Grace McInnis said.

Shop owner Thomas Slawniak welcomed the news that the commission had approved the license.

Under a state law which took effect last year stores, like Rave Vape, that sell only vaping supplies must obtain a state tobacco license.

“We plan to work collaboratively with the city, police department and school district on an education and awareness effort to support Mr. Slaniak in maintaining compliancy, including adhering to age restrictions, as he has done so since the business began operations in 2017,” Chief Mark Armaganian, director of the Liquor Commission's Division of Enforcement and Licensing, said.

The City Council had gone on record with concerns about the shop because its proximity to the high school.

Slawniak, who opened the shop more than two years ago, said he does not sell to anyone under 19 years old, but only to adults who want to vape as a way of ending their cigarette habit.

“I’ve been doing things legally and ethically,” he said Thursday, adding: “All the products I sell are according to FDA regulations.”

The School Board has taken no position regarding Raven Vape, despite being urged to do so earlier this week by the founder of Stand Up Laconia, a coalition of youths and adults concerned with substance misuse.

Chief Hearing Officer Joseph Plaia, who conducted last Friday’s hearing, noted the presence of other stores within a few minutes walk of the high school – stores that sell vaping supplies, cigarettes, other tobacco products, e-cigarettes, beer, and wine. In addition, he said the city has no ordinances limiting or restricting certain businesses from operating within a specified distance from a school.

Slawniak said the criticism directed toward his business was misplaced, and was triggered by news reports last fall about the number of people who died from vaping-related injuries.

“If vaping hadn’t been in the news in September they wouldn’t know I was here,” he said of his critics.

He said those death statistics that made the news were due to “illegal THC products.”

In October federal health officials said most people who died from vaping-related injuries used products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Based on data available, about 85 percent reported using THC-containing products, compared to about 10 percent who reported exclusively vaping nicotine-containing products, officials said. Many sick patients said they bought THC vape products on the black market, multiple news organizations reported in October.

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