LEWISTON — Step into Steve Negm’s vape store these days and things look a little different from the way they had a year ago.

There’s a row of soy and beeswax scents on a display case and paintings from a local artist on the walls. Soon there will be scented candles for sale, and Negm is looking for a local potter and glass-blower to create related wares.

At Downeast Vapes on Lisbon Street, vapes are no longer the only products on the shelves. That’s because for months, Negm has been preparing for the arrival of new legislation he says will drive vapes — another term for e-cigarettes — into extinction.

“I knew it was coming,” Negm said. “That’s why I’ve been moving into candles. This is going to kill the industry. That is my wholehearted belief.”

According to new legislation issued Thursday, electronic cigarettes will now be regulated much like tobacco cigarettes. Stores and online shops already can’t sell to minors, so that’s not much of a change.

What hurts is that, under the new rules, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would have to approve all tobacco products not currently regulated that hit stores after February 2007. Nearly every e-cigarette on the market — and every flavor and nicotine level — would require a separate application for federal approval, with each application costing $1 million or more.

When you consider that Negm offers 26 flavors — and four nicotine levels for each — the numbers get staggering. By the end of summer, Negm and other vape store owners may not be able to sell their product unless they can pay that kind of money for approval.

That’s tough on vape business, Negm said. But it’s also tough on the people who have successfully used vapes to quit smoking cigarettes.

“It will be much more expensive to vape than it will be to use tobacco,” said Negm, who started vaping in 2009 and used it to end a 35-year smoking habit. “So people will go back to smoking cigarettes.”

Farther down Lisbon Street, in Lewiston’s downtown, a worker at Escape Vape said Thursday afternoon his clients were just hearing about the legislation. There were faint rumblings about it, but no one seemed to know what was going to happen next.

Negm believes he knows — which is why he’s spent the past six months learning to concoct candles and scented wax, along with exotic vape flavors.

For other vape vendors and users, there may be hope from House Republicans. The Associated Press on Thursday reported that legislation approved by a House committee last month would ease the rules announced Thursday by the FDA. The legislation would prevent the FDA from requiring retroactive safety reviews of e-cigarettes already on the market and exempt some premium and large cigars from those same regulations. E-cigarette products introduced in the future would face the safety reviews.


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