A Boulder vape retailer has been left shocked and confused after being told by the Department of Health that his business, which has had regular compliance checks for years, has always been illegal.
Wild West Vapers was one of 3000 retailers to receive a letter from the department reminding business owners of the “ongoing restrictions regarding the sale of e-cigarette devices and nicotine vaping products”.
The letter states it is against the law for tobacco or other retailers to sell e-cigarette devices and their components, whether they contain nicotine or not.
But Wild West Vapers owner Rikki Smedley told the Kalgoorlie Miner his shop — which has always sold vape components and nicotine-free liquids — had been subject to various compliance checks since opening in 2019 without any concerns raised.
Mr Smedley said he checked with both the department and the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder to ensure his business was above board, and was advised his business could sell e-cigarette tanks or mods — not both — and nicotine free liquids.
A Department of Health spokesperson told the Kalgoorlie Miner compliance activities had been “ramped up” and surveillance of the illegal sale of e-cigarettes had increased recently due to reporting of a growing number of young people accessing vapes and e-cigarettes.
The spokesperson said many vapes contained nicotine, even if labelled “nicotine-free”, and anyone caught selling the “harmful” products could have items seized or face prosecution.
“The maximum penalty for selling e-cigarettes, vapes and their components is $10,000 for an individual for a first offence and $20,000 for a second and subsequent offences,” the spokesperson said.
“If a business operates as a company, the maximum penalties are $40,000 and $80,000, respectively.”
Mr Smedley said he was left scratching his head over the “sudden” revelation his business had “always been illegal”.
“That would mean that for the last six years they have come and done regular compliance checks on businesses, seen they are selling prohibited items, and done nothing about it,” he said.
“It really doesn’t make them look very good.
“They have literally done a backflip and are trying to enforce something that never existed before.
“This is not how democracy works. You can’t just destroy thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of industry overnight just because you feel like it.
“How do you operate a business in a State that can just make your trade illegal the next day with no consultation, no legislation change, no nothing.”
Mr Smedley started his business selling vape products as a way to help people quit smoking as it had worked for him, his family and friends.
He said he was completely against the sale of products to minors and that his over-18 store had never let children come in even to browse the range.
“The thing everyone should be breathing is fresh air,” he said.
“I support vaping for people who would otherwise be smoking cigarettes and would prefer a less harmful option.
“I have helped convert long-time smokers to vapes to reduce and eventually stop their nicotine consumption.
“The reality is we live in a world where we can go to the store and buy a pack of cigarettes that can kill you, but if you want to buy the less harmful alternative, you’re a criminal. That’s madness. It’s nonsensical.”
He agreed there was a “massive problem” with youth using nicotine disposables, but said legitimate vape store owners should not be the ones to blame.
“We see all the time stores just down the street selling the illegal products, and have clients literally leaving our stores in droves to walk across the road and buy a nicotine disposable,” he said.
“We have been reporting them and nothing has happened.
“Now that the disposables issue becomes a public issue and they have to do something about it, they decide to ban the vape stores who were trying to combat it in the first place.”
Daylight Saving Party Member for Mining and Pastoral Wilson Tucker has backed Mr Smedley, saying the crackdown on stores which do not sell nicotine and do not serve children was “unfair”.
“This change in policy is unfair because — given that it comes off the back of a recent government crackdown on vaping in schools — it seems to suggest that vape shop owners are complicit in that problem,” he said.
“I oppose underage children having access to vaping products, however the government should address that problem directly, and not unfairly malign small business owners without any evidence of wrongdoing.”
Mr Tucker said the entire business model of shops such as Mr Smedley’s revolved around selling vaping products and nicotine-free liquids, and “until now” the department nor local government had “any problem with that”.
“Pulling the rug under these small businesses without any consultation is completely unfair, and it could even create an unregulated black market outside the view of main street,” he said.
Mr Smedley said he planned to keep the doors open for now, but was “in limbo” until he worked out exactly what was going on.