Flavored e-cigarette “juice” for sale at 31 Smoke and Vape on the Pennington Circle. (Staff photo by Joe Emanski.)

The owners of two convenience stores on the Pennington Circle say they have pulled all electronic cigarette products from the shelves of those stores and opened a separate store from which to sell them.

Co-owners Dolly Lalchandani and Kapil Mansharamani of 31 Smoke and Vape say the move enables them to better ensure that minors cannot gain access to the controversial alternatives to tobacco cigarettes. New Jersey law prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 21.

The tiny shop is stocked with cigarettes and other tobacco products, e-cigarettes (including Juul devices, which have proven popular with young people), vape liquids and salts, as well as other products like kratom, a natural psychotropic said to have therapeutic uses, and cannabidiol, or CBD, a cannabinoid derived from hemp that is also claimed to have health benefits.

Many liquids or salts meant for use in e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive. Many are also candy or fruit flavored. Today’s teens and preteens have largely eschewed tobacco cigarettes, but flavored e-cigarettes have proven a more powerful temptation.

“The reason we opened this shop is we wanted to make this shop for people over the age of 21 only,” Mansharamani said in a recent interview. “For the community, we took this step. Somebody comes in, they look 21, but you never know. We ID everyone who comes into the store.”

At the convenience stores attached to their Lukoil and BP gas stations on the Pennington circle, Mansharamawani and Lalchandani and their partners sold e-cigarettes and associated supplies as well as everyday items like lottery tickets, soft drinks and candy. Mansharamani says it was challenging for clerks in the convenience stores to ensure that e-cigarettes were never sold to minors.

“We cannot stop people from coming into the shop when it’s a gas station,” Lalchandani said. “Here as soon as you enter, we ask, ‘Do you have ID?’”

Vape shops are opening in many communities throughout the area as demand for e-cigarettes and related products continues to rise. This has led some towns, such as West Windsor, to contemplate banning such shops.

Kevin Schroth is a public health expert who spent 8 years as head of policy for New York City’s Bureau of Tobacco Control. He is now a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Public Health, where he works to address the threats posed by tobacco and nicotine products. Last month, he was in Hopewell last month to participate in a forum on e-cigarettes.

When Schroth was with New York’s health department, he advocated for the banning of flavored e-cigarettes at all retail stores with the exception of vape shops. “If a town were to ban vape shops, but not ban the sale of electronic cigarettes at other stores, like gas stations and convenience stores, I think that would be a mistake,” Schroth told the Express. “What I would want to do is get the e-cigarettes out of places like 7-Elevens and gas stations, and have strict restrictions on vape shops, so if they sell to someone under 21, they’ll get put out of business, or shut down for 30 or 60 days. That way you can still leave your product available for adults.”

31 Smoke and Vape also has a wide variety of bongs for sale. Bongs can be used to smoke marijuana as well as legal products such as tobacco.

Mansharamani says that even if marijuana were to be legalized in New Jersey, he does not expect to ever sell it in his store. “I don’t think so because for that, you need a lot of money,” he said.