State lawmakers advanced plans to ban flavored electronic cigarette products in New Jersey, despite protests from vape shop owners who say it will force them out of business and send former smokers back to cigarettes.

After hours of testimony in the Senate and Assembly appropriations committees Thursday, one concession was made to shop owners: The bill would take effect in 90 days, rather than immediately as had been proposed.

“I realize it’s not a great time, but it’s better than zero,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester.

“Those people will be unemployed then in April,” said Rich Levesque, a senior vice president and general manager at MWW, representing the New Jersey Vapor Rights Coalition.

“That is correct,” said Burzichelli, who said he doesn’t agree with banning flavors in vape stores – but voted to advance the bill, as the committee chairman.

Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said the delayed effective date gives vape shop owners a chance to work on getting a new bill passed to save their industry.

“Pushing out an effective date to allow people to remove old stock, that’s not enough. That’s not going to stop bankruptcies, that’s not going to stop people from having to violate leases,” Conley said.

Shop owners told lawmakers they have already begun shutting stores and that the state risks losing around $60 million in tax revenue. They said the changes won’t prevent kids from accessing vaping products, either online or at convenience stores, where tobacco-flavored cartridges would still be available with limits on their nicotine content.

Michael Delia, owner of Sweet Cloudz vape shop in Wantage, said he invested his money and his wife’s money to invest in his store, for which he recently signed a three-year lease extension.

“If this happens to me, I don’t know what I’m going to do. My landlord already told me he doesn’t know what to tell me, figure out another business. With what? I have $30,000 of vape product in my store. What am I supposed to do with it?” Delia said.

“This is not the answer,” he said. “I’m telling you, this is not the answer for anybody, the kids or us. It’s not resolving anything.”

Anti-smoking advocates said the bill doesn’t go far enough in eliminating flavored products.

“Our fear is that if we move this legislation forward, we won’t have the commitment to move an all-out flavor ban forward – menthol, cigars, cigarillos, those products we know kids are going to transition to,” said Samantha DeAlmeida of the American Cancer Society.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, said he would have liked a menthol ban but will take what he can get.

“If menthol could have remained in there – you know I’ve been trying to get rid of menthol for a very long time. But I’m also a realist and want to make sure that we can make advancements in the area of public health,” Conaway said.

Other parts of the package of vaping-related measures would require retailers to use an electronic age verification system, increase fines for selling to people under age 21, ban devices disguised to look like other objects and prohibit tobacco sales at pharmacies.

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