Last Updated on April 11, 2019 by

Minors Risk Brick & Mortar Vape Shops

As far as I’m concerned, I would much rather see teenagers using electronic cigarettes rather than real cigarettes. Anyone that doesn’t agree with that isn’t living in the real world, including owners of vape shops around the world.

We don’t need more proof that tobacco kills, and because the ingredients that make up e liquid are benign, its more than a safe bet that e-cigarettes won’t cause a fraction of the damage tobacco does.

But, the law is the law, and when it comes to e cigarettes, if you’re under 18, or 21, depending on where you live, walking into a neighborhood vape shop and buying so much as a bottle of e-liquid can get the shop’s owner in lot of trouble.

If you’re not sure what the law is where you live, check out this report that outlines the current e-cigarette laws prohibiting sales to minors.

Teenagers walk into vape shops every day and buy electronic cigarettes, atomizers, coil wire, e liquid, and anything else they need to enjoy vaping. Shop owners may think they’re not doing anything wrong, or endangering minors any more than chugging a can of Red Bull will, but because local laws prohibit these sales, vape shop owners can face substantial fines and perhaps even be forced to close their doors forever. Yes, it’s dumb, yes our priorities are messed up, but until the real truth about vaping is accepted by the majority, vape shop owners MUST protect themselves. Trust me.

Vape Shops –  Owners and Managers

Most vape shops in the United States and the UK do not look like VapeRev or Vaporshark. They are not million dollar stores with state-of-the-art registers jacked into the internet, they don’t have surveillance cameras recording every transaction. Nope, the majority of the vape shops are mom and pop operations, with simple cash registers and no planning. That means no real way to safeguard their investment when it comes to selling to minors.

Most shops are little more than holes in the wall… small, cramped, strip mall locations staffed with vape enthusiasts who, let’s be real, wouldn’t mind selling vape gear and e liquid to a twelve-year-old to make the rent. Thankfully most shop owners won’t do it, the risk is too high, but employees on the other hand, just might.

A shop owner might have his or her life savings wrapped up in that hole-in-the-wall vape shop, but someone that took the job at a vape shop just to be close to all that cool gear and the opportunity to ‘sample’ all kinds of e juice for free, that employee might very well make the sale to a twelve-year-old, for no other reason than to make sure his or her boss can make next month’s rent.

How do I know this? Why would I make such a blatant remark that will surely anger many of the vape shop owners and employees that read Spinfuel? Because I was that vape shop owner, and because of an employee made a habit out of selling products to anyone that walks in the door, without regard to age, I lost my shop, my savings, and now I work for one of the big vape shop chains selling starter kits.

Making Choices

Vape shops are witnessing a massive influx of teenagers interested in taking up the hobby of vaping. They stroll into the shop, spend upwards of an hour just looking around, picking things up, putting them down, all the while becoming more and more enamored with the idea of vaping. Most kids won’t ever pick up a cigarette, but the ones who will are now considering something much safer. These kids will either smoke or vape, and even though we ALL would rather see those kids pick up a nice box mod, tank, and a bottle of e juice, the law says that if we allow it in our shops we’re toast. So until local laws change your only option as a shop owner is to make sure you and your employees are not selling to kids. Period.

Check ID’s – Not Enough Anymore

Eliminating the sale of vape gear and e juice to minors should be your #1 priority as a shop owner, despite its potential effect on your bottom line.

In my shop I had a rule; if the customer looks like he or she ‘might’ be under the age of 21, card the customer. No exceptions. My three employees all agreed to check ID’s, and they all told me, in no uncertain terms, that they understood the cost of being busted for selling to a minor. Talk is cheap.

For two years my shop provided me and my family with a great life. I had a knack for picking the right products, I kept my prices just a tiny bit higher than the online vendors, and I made sure my employees treated everyone with respect, and answered their questions with honesty. Everything was happening exactly as I dreamed it would. Until it didn’t.

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

One night I was at the shop, in the back, doing paperwork. Every time the doorbell above the door would tinkle I would know a customer had come in, and that night the number of ‘tinkles’ told me my business was truly successful. I couldn’t have been more proud of myself, my wife for believing I could do it, and my three employees who busted their asses to help make this work. It was supposed to be a great night.

While I was doing paperwork I heard the voices of a couple of men. They didn’t sound like customers, that ‘excitement’ in the voice of my customers was not there and instead there was this deep tone of seriousness. They were cops, and they had bad news.

Turns out some teenager, close to eighteen, had been a customer of my shop for almost a year, and the previous day his mom had discovered his collection of gear and e juice and believed her son was doing drugs. I don’t have all the information, there wasn’t a lawsuit, there wasn’t a trial of any kind. All that came out of that night was “repeated violations for selling to underage customers”. The fines alone wiped me out, the publicity in the local paper killed my rep. I closed up less than a month later. My inventory was purchased by my friendly rival, a friend I helped set up across town.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I won’t open another shop again. I won’t work for this chain store much longer either. Luckily for me, my BS in criminal justice got me into the police academy, my original life goal before I discovered vaping. I start later this year, so I guess it’s a happy ending for me… Maybe.

I asked Spinfuel to allow me this opportunity to tell this story because if you own a vape shop or work in a vape shop you need to understand the stakes. Selling to minors may seem okay, like you’re actually saving this kid from a life cut short by tobacco, but what you’re really doing is endangering your shop, your life, and your employees’ jobs. You need to make sure you are doing more than looking at a Driver’s License the next time a youthful looking customer comes up to the register.

I trusted my employees to make the right decision every time. What I didn’t do is set up a system that would take away the temptation to sell to a minor, and that’s what you need to do. I can’t tell you exactly what you need, but I can tell you what I would do if I could go back in time.

  1. Tie every sale to an ID check. If it went through the register it must have basic ID info. Maybe the Driver’s License number, maybe a copy of the license, something has to tie in to every sale so you can personally check them the next day.
  2. See if your state has any information on checking the validity of a person’s ID. If the ID has a barcode or something, see if there is anything available that can scan it to make sure its valid (Is there an app for that?). Fake ID’s are getting really good, and cheap.
  3. Have a Zero Tolerance policy for selling to minors. Even if your employee is your BFF, violating the policy means losing the job.
  4. Take this shit seriously. State and local officials are probably gunning for your shop. They’d love nothing more than to see it closed up. Know this. Believe this. Don’t give them the excuse they need.

What Do You Do?

While I was a vape shop owner I ran a friendly shop and never hassled my customers. I treated my employees like friends, because they were. And I never thought there was a real possibility of being forced to close my shop over some teenager looking to stay off tobacco with e-cigarettes. That was the worst thing to get over; my shop did a good thing, and I lost it because of it.

Without the option of vaping, a certain percentage of teenagers WILL smoke. It’s always been that way and it always will be. But offering a safer alternative can make a difference. As long as the law says we can’t offer that alternative, you have no choice. When it comes to who wins, your shop or your local government, you’ll lose every time.

Let’s talk about this. What are you doing now to protect yourself from selling to minors? Share your experiences, and your solutions (or problems) and maybe, just maybe, we can make sure no one else has to lose their shop over this kind of mistake.

Eric Casey – Ex-Vape Shop Owner