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Even With Shut Downs and Devastating Bans, Vaping Community Helping People

One thing that is quickly apparent when joining the vaping community is how exceptionally helpful people are. Vapers are happy to encourage, support and help people who smoke switch to far safer alternatives, whether in a social media group, online forum, local vape shop or just a stranger on the street asking about vaping. Most vape shop owners say they opened their stores because they wanted to help people quit smoking like they did.

Even as vapers and vape shops contend with reduced access to low-risk products due to forced closures, flavor bans and looming regulations, their thoughts turn to helping others. 

In Minnesota, Skip Murray was an active member in her community even before her son opened Lake Vapes & Rec Supply in Brainerd. Along with working at the vape shop, Skip is a Direct Service Professional at a company with 4 group homes in her area. A huge advocate for vaping, she became a Tobacco Harm Reduction Specialist for the Minnesota Smoke Free Alliance, a grass-roots advocacy group promoting tobacco harm reduction policies.

When the COVID-19 outbreak started to impact her community, Skip’s giving nature kicked into high gear. So far, she, her family and her coworkers have donated bottles, disposable and N95 face masks, and more than 16 gallons of hand sanitizer to first responders. They are also donating groceries and even crafting supplies for families with special needs children.

“I spent the day hand filling bottles and hand sticking labels on them. I’m about to leave and go hand some of them out,” she told us in a recent Messenger chat. “Need to deliver, and then grab some food, and then take a nap. Then I work at 3 am.”

As Skip was dealing with reduced business and income at the vape shop, she was running donated supplies around town and then working her other job, while proudly sharing stories on social media of other vapers and small vape businesses helping out their communities.

“I have more tweets to do and will try to work on them tonight when I’m working at the group home. The distilleries and breweries are getting plenty of press. The vape industry, not so much.”


John Burns is a business consultant for an insurance company whose wife owns Stella Blues Vapors in Fenton, Missouri. Not only have they donated over 3,000 bottles of hand sanitizer that they made in the shop, but John has also been working hard to raise money for the Love Like Jackson Foundation, which supports grief and therapy services for young children suffering from the death of a sibling. John’s colleagues buy the sanitizer that his wife makes through the Foundation, which covers the cost of making the product plus an additional 75¢ per bottle that Foundation keeps. The hand sanitizer is then donated to local first responders. In just the past two weeks, they’ve donated over 800 bottles to first responders, raising over $600 for the Foundation.

“I smoked 3 packs a day,” John told us via Messenger. “All of my kids begged for years for me to quit, but they support me vaping 100%. My kids do not vape, nor do they have any interest, but they see the good we do–which hopefully instills good will in them.”

“Contrary to public opinion, [vape shops] are not recruiting children, but do contribute a lot to the betterment of our community.” For example, John said, “A vape shop is helping raise money and awareness for adolescent cancer research and information. Their event raised over $10,000 and 100% of the proceeds is going in a grant to a cancer researcher of their choice. That’s the difference vaping is making.”


Texan Char Owen was a server engineer when her father died of smoking-related lung cancer. She also lost a son who smoked to a brain tumor. Because of this, she tried everything she could think of to help her husband quit smoking, but nothing stuck until he bought an e-cigarette kit in 2009. She immediately saw the potential to help other people.

“I don’t want to see any other child lose a parent from smoking ever again,” she told us in a phone call. In the background, her mother added, “Or a wife lose her husband.”

Char has always been pretty active in local politics, but she found she had to step up her game after opening her Cloud 9 vape shops in Seguin. In spite of the fact that over 7,000 of her customers have quit smoking, the vapor industry is facing escalating battles against misinformation and excessive regulations that don’t apply to most cigarette manufacturers. Vapor products must go through the Pre-Market Tobacco Application (PMTA) process that requires millions of dollars in paperwork and testing, threatening to wipe out 90% or more of the small businesses making e-liquid. So Char helped create and helps run the PMTA Sharing Group, which assists small businesses in banding together to navigate the complicated, expensive and uncertain PMTA process.

“It’s important to save these small businesses. Not just for them, but for the consumer. When thousands of e-liquid mom & pop’s go under, that reduces customer choices for harm reduction,” she said.

When the threat of COVID-19 shut down many vape shops as “non-essential,” Char says she simply couldn’t leave her customers without their supplies, so she did whatever it took to stay open and provide curbside service. When state representative Tony Tinderholt called to see if she could get him some much-needed hand sanitizer for first responders working in his district, she was open and ready to jump into action. She called around and found the supplies, then acquired the proper FDA registration to produce and sell hand sanitizer. She and her mother jumped into an RV for the nearly 4 hour drive to Dallas with 400 bottles of the precious liquid on board. Later she found a wholesaler source for the supplies Rep. Tinderholt’s district needed.

Since then, Char has been donating hand sanitizer to the local fire department and hospital. Additionally, first responders can pick up one free bottle per day from her shop and she sells it to the public at cost.

Unfortunately, the day she went to Dallas was also the day her son, Ethan, was supposed to be celebrating at his 10th birthday party. Char was obviously bursting with pride in telling how he willingly agreed to postpone his big day, so people could be safer. 

“Not only does he know his mom cares tremendously about harm reduction,” she said, “but my son is learning to care about his community. We’re paying it forward. Maybe another little child won’t have to lose a parent. He is learning that he needs to have the heart to fight and the heart to give.”

Happily, her son did get to have his birthday party 4 days later – with firecrackers.


Back in Minnesota, Dan Baker owns and operates an e-liquid company, Baker White Inc., in Ramsey. After a desperate search for denatured alcohol, he and his employee, Barry Petersen, were finally able to mix up 500 gallons of hand sanitizer. Nearly all of it was gone within two days as hundreds of cars waited in line at the Anoka County Fairgrounds for volunteers – including Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look, who had assisted Dan in finding the alcohol to make the sanitizer – to fill their empty bottles.

Photo Credit: Uncredited photo submitted to Anoka County Union Herald

“There were people crying,” Dan said in a Star Tribune interview. “It’s not the answer, but people are scared. Even if it doesn’t have a huge impact on the virus, it makes people feel a little better.”

Volunteers delivered an additional 100 gallons or so of the remaining hand sanitizer to the elderly and immunocompromised, and the rest was donated to healthcare workers. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office even picked up 15 gallons.

He said his business was already dying down after the vaping scare last year – which was eventually linked to illicit THC products tainted with vitamin E acetate, a substance not used in nicotine vapor products.

Dan decided his company could help meet the demand for hand sanitizer after hearing about shortages on the news and concerns from his daughter, who is a nurse.

“We just thought this is what we can do. We’re not super busy right now. We have the ability and the means to do something, and this is one way we could contribute. That was really it,” he told Fox 9 News.


And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We came across dozens and dozens of stories about vapers, vape shops and vape manufacturers across the country doing what they can to help their communities – sometimes the very same communities that have treated them with hostility or disregard in the past. Maybe local officials will see that vapers aren’t the bad guys as they’ve all too often been portrayed and, like what the vaping community has been saying all along, what they do is all about helping people.

It’s the best part of the job.


You can see dozens more on this Twitter thread:


About the Author
Kristin Noll-Marsh is currently
CASAA’s Member Coordinator. She was elected to the founding CASAA Board of Directors in the fall of 2009 and served as Vice President from 2011-2016.