Danielle Chesney, CEO of Alt Vape, moved to Calgary in 2014 from Saskatchewan. By 2017 she and her partner, Samir El Gindi, opened the first Alt Vape store in Westhills.
“It was an industry that we felt wasn't being taken super seriously, so we had to come in and create an environment where everyone felt comfortable,” Chesney says.
At the time, the vape industry was booming, which led Chesney to open up five other Alt Vape locations by 2019. But business took a turn for the worse in August 2019, when the first death that was linked to a mysterious vaping-related illness occurred.
“At first we had people coming in who would purchase a device to quit smoking. The following day, they'd bring it back and return it. ‘Oh, I can't, this is too dangerous now. I'm just going to go back to smoking,’” Chesney explains.
Martin Drinov, general manager of the Cool Vape north location, has had similar experiences.
“We have even had comments from some people [saying] that they're not going to vape anymore because it is, as the media says, ‘worse than smoking,’” says Drinov.
Day-to-day operations are becoming tighter around the Alt Vape shops and Chesney is starting to feel the impact of the scares.
“We've essentially undergone a 30 per cent loss in sales,” Chesney explains.
“We had to make really difficult decisions. We had to lay off staff and unfortunately, make some cuts that we absolutely didn't want to do. That was probably the most challenging part, losing people.”
This drop in business is part of what compelled Chesney to rethink the role of the business in the community. As a result, Alt Vape started creating pamphlets explaining the understood risks and rewards of vaping and spread them on social media.
Now, the biggest challenge for Chesney is the uncertainty surrounding upcoming vaping regulations .
Both federal and provincial governments have multiple regulations in place to govern the sale and use of vaping products. According to Health Canada, the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA) which became law in May 2018, controls not only the production, sale, labelling, and promotion of vaping products. But also has legislation for the protection of youth from nicotine addiction.
Vaping also falls under a number of other regulatory divisions that can be found on the Health Canada website. Right now, more complete regulations governing all aspects of vape use are in the works.
This means that, while waiting for further regulation, vape shops are operating in a grey area.
“You just hope that everybody is operating these shops responsibly and that everybody has the same attitude,” says Chesney. “You don't want a couple of bad apples to spoil the bunch.”
Chesney hopes that “facts, not fear” will lead to government regulations that move vaping into a new light. She thinks it has potential to be viewed in a medicinal sense as it is used as a smoking cessation product.
Drinov is also hopeful that over the course of the next couple of months, more legislation will come down from the government which will help the public regain some trust in the industry, at which time he expects business to return to normal.
The U.K is one place that Chesney and Drinov both said the government should look towards as an example of how to treat vaping. Chesney even cited an article about how two vape stores were opened in the vicinity of hospitals and forced occupants who smoked to switch to vaping while on hospital grounds, in an effort to keep the environments smoke-free.
The efforts by the Alt Vape team to bring back business have been paying off.
“Week after week, things are improving,” Chesney explains.
Given the fact that the regulations that vaping is trying to adhere to do not exist yet, Chesney hopes that what Alt Vape is doing will be enough.
- By Rogan Bowen-Harper