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Kane County vape shops losing sales and foot traffic amid public health concerns about vaping

A local vape shop owner cautions that public health concerns raised in recent months about vaping are overblown and uneducated.

“There’s plenty of good information from Europe, Canada and even our own U.S. on the health benefits of this,” said Joe Larsen, the owner of Elixrz Vape-Shop.

Kane County Health Department officials have taken the position to echo concerns raised about vaping at the state and national levels in recent months.

Michael Isaacson, assistant director of community health for the Kane County Health Department, said they don’t believe vaping is something that should be done.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen since vaping came out several years ago, it’s gotten more and more popular with young people around the country and in Kane County,” he said. “I think initially a lot of people thought it wasn’t harmful. A lot of people view it as being a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.”

Over the years, a decrease in the number of young people who are smoking cigarettes has been noted, officials said.

“Now with vaping, we’re seeing an increase,” Isaacson said. “Unfortunately, over the last 6 months or so, we started to see a lot of negative health effects.”

The Kane County Health Department, in partnership with the Illinois Department of Public Health, has been investigating vaping-related lung issue cases.

As of Oct. 1 through the month’s end, Kane County noted 7 cases of vaping-related lung issues, 3 probable cases and 1 case in which more information still needs to be gathered.

“We’re still unfortunately seeing more and more cases come into our hospitals,” Isaacson said.

Larsen acknowledged that people have developed nicotine poisoning from what the Center for Disease and Control has reported and said they should not have been using those products.

“What has recently happened has nothing to do with my business,” he said. “I do not sell boot-legged THC products.”

Larsen is the owner of several vape shops in the Kane County-area, including those in St. Charles, S. Elgin and Aurora. He said foot traffic has been reduced and sales have fallen by at least 40%, which are both terrible for business.

“My wife had a different store, and we even had to shut it down,” Larsen said. “This was going to back two months ago when [vaping] was on the news every single day. … Business has come back a little bit, but it’s nothing like it was. Again, I’ve been in business for over 8 years now.”

Elixrz Vape-Shop sells salt nicotine in its stores, but it does not carry Juul products for patrons to purchase. Larsen said he is not supportive of Juul products and doesn’t believe vaping is marketed to children.

“It’s all for adults that are trying to quit smoking,” he said. “I personally have used vaping for 10 years. In 10 years, I have not picked up a cigarette.”

Larsen said past news coverage in “the media has killed us.”

“I just can’t believe that my own customers got duped by the news,” he said. “You had to read the entire article. Very briefly did they describe that the root of the cause was 80-90% of THC.”

Larsen called into question the work of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, saying it won’t stand up for vape shops.

“All of the companies that make liquid back in 2016, we had to comply with the FDA and we physically had to send them copies of all of our recipes,” he said. “Our FDA had everybody’s recipe for over 3 years. They know exactly what’s in everybody’s juice.”

Larsen said he thinks the issue boils down to money generated by the tobacco industry.

“The state relies on tobacco income more than they care about our health,” he said. “They would rather us smoke because they get paid for it instead of being what the FDA is supposed to be, which [serves] our best interests and protects us.”


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