E-cigarette sales are down, according to one local business, after recent reports of vaping-related illnesses and deaths across the nation.

Vape Bar owner Antonio Saverino said sales at his shop at 312 Tuttle Creek Blvd. dropped 25% since the middle of September.

Saverino, president of the Kansas Vapers Association, said recent news reports give vape shops like his a bad rap, and he said he wants to set the record straight.

“It’s making people like me look really bad,” Saverino said in a recent interview with The Mercury.

He pointed to the sale of THC cartridges as reasons for people getting sick from vaping, not from the type of vape juices he sells.

As of Friday, there have been 26 deaths — two in Kansas — related to e-cigarettes, according to Jennifer Green, director of the Riley County Health Department.

City officials said there are four vaping establishments in Manhattan, but other entities are exiting the e-cigarette business in the aftermath of these deaths. Walmart, Walgreens and Kroger, the parent company of Dillons, recently announced that they would halt the sale of e-cigarettes in their stores.

According to a Kansas Communities that Care survey, one in five Riley County teens have tried vaping products.

Green said the survey reported in 2018 that 4% of teens were actively vaping, but now that number has more than doubled to 10% in 2019.

“So it’s on the rise,” Green said.

Saverino said he and his store combat underage vaping.

“My policy, if you are not 18 years old, you don’t come in. Period,” he said.

Saverino advocates for vaping as a replacement for cigarette smoking, not as a new practice for those who have never smoked tobacco before.

Although they are not regulated by the FDA as a quitting method, Green said e-cigarettes have the potential to help adult smokers if they’re not pregnant and they use it as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes.

Saverino said regulation may not be negative for the industry. “We’re expecting regulation,” he said. “Regulation would not be a bad thing.”

Saverino also spoke to the Manhattan City Commission earlier this week along with Travis Kirby, owner of Juicy’s Vapor Lounge, while commissioners contemplated a combined cigarette and e-cigarette ordinance, which administrators said would provide clarity to where smoking and vaping is banned. This would include any city park, city-owned parking garages and other public spaces such as in restaurants and work establishments.

Kirby, whose son founded the company in Oklahoma, also blamed THC cartridges from the black market for deaths.

One of the considerations is whether to allow vaping inside of vape shops.

Currently, the city doesn’t ban vaping inside of those businesses.

Saverino said he agreed with commissioner Wynn Butler, who said he did not want to restrict future vape shops from allowing vaping.

Some commissioners favored grandfathering in current businesses but not allowing the practice at future ones.

Saverino said the city should not limit any business, whether it is his competition or not.