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Chris Hughes fights the power in Pennsylvania


Chris Hughes is famous among vaping advocates. The former president of the Pennsylvania SFATA chapter has been a whirlwind of activity defending the vape vendors in his state — meeting legislators, recruiting members, raising money, writing op-eds, and generally doing everything possible to protect and defend vaping in one of the country’s largest states.

He’s the kind of guy people enjoy talking to. He’s honest and completely devoid of slickness or double-talk. You could just as easily imagine Chris working as a political lobbyist or as a bartender. He gets along with everyone. People like him. And he knows a lot — especially about vaping politics and legislation.

He’s good at what he does. During his tenure as state SFATA president, the organization held off many attempts to advance taxes and other restrictions. Just before he handed the SFATA reins to Dave Norris — owner of Blue Door Vaping in Mechanicsburg — Chris spoke with the Pennsylvania Speaker of the House. He left their meeting confident that there would be no draconian vapor tax proposed this year. He went on vacation. He even relaxed a little.

On his way back home, all hell broke loose. Messages and calls started pouring in.

You probably remember the story. In a last-minute budget deal, Republicans threw in with Democrats (and the Democratic governor) to pass a tax on vapor products they claimed would raise $13.3 million. Of course, the state will collect precisely nothing from closed stores.

Most state legislators don’t even slightly understand the product or the businesses that sell it. “One thing legislators seem to be having a hard time grasping,” says Chris, “is that these are the only products that vape shops typically sell. They aren’t selling cigarettes or sandwiches or gas. There’s no place to make up the loss of profit in most cases.”

If I have $100,000 worth of inventory in my shop on Oct. 1, I have to cut a check to the state for $40,000. Many small businesses, including mine, simply can’t afford this.

Despite all the talk I hear from Gov. Wolf and lawmakers about job creation, this tax seems designed to do one thing: kill off Pennsylvania’s vape shop industry and the 1,500 full-time jobs it provides. As many as 92 percent of Pennsylvania vape shops are expected to shut down across the state.

And for what? After being rushed through with little debate, the tax is estimated to generate only $13.3 million, a mere two percent of the revenue needed to balance the state budget.

Can you guess how much this tax will raise from a store that shuts down? Not a dime. Both the sales tax my customers pay and the income tax I pay will also dry up.

Ironically, the state could end up collecting less money with this tax than without it.

The law’s threat to punish individual vapers for possessing untaxed products hasn’t exactly endeared state legislators to the vaping community either. Between the state’s tax and the federal FDA’s attempt to completely destroy independent vapor businesses, Pennsylvania vapers are mad. Who could blame them?



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