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LOCAL

Rockford-area vape store going out of business after 10 years. Here's why

Chris Green
Rockford Register Star

Next month marks the 10-year anniversary of , and they have a big sale going on, too.

But the sale is not a celebration. Business owner Marco Altamore is discounting his merchandise and will close his Marco's Vapor shops in Cherry Valley and Machesney Park for good on July 1.

"I've made peace with it," Altamore said. "It's sad for my employees, but I think we are all going to land on our feet."

Marco's Vapor sells electronic cigarettes devices as well as nicotine-containing vapor liquid and other smoking-related items.

Altamore first opened the Cherry Valley store in July 2014 near CherryVale Mall at 1957 Pawlisch Dr. when the vaping industry was unregulated and there were no age restrictions.

More:Vaping inside public buildings will soon be illegal in Illinois under new law

About two years after Altamore opened his Rockford area stores, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started regulating the vapor/e-cigarette industry, and Altamore's brand, Custom Clouds, along with many others across the country, could not get its products approved.

"I saw then how this was going to end up," he said. "Only big tobacco is going to get approved, and now eight years later, that has been the case. They've handed the vape industry over to big tobacco. ... Government regulations, specifically the FDA, have made it impossible to continue operating in America. They've imposed fines to anyone selling unauthorized products."

As of January, only three companies have been approved to sell e-cigarettes: Logic Technology Development LLC, NJOY LLC, and R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company.

According to FDA.gov, which also regulates the sale of tobacco cigarettes in the U.S., the agency started regulating the vaping industry in 2016 as a matter of public health, to prevent smoking-related illnesses and nicotine addiction, particularly among the nation's youth because of the vaping industry's widespread use of kid-friendly fruity and candy-like flavors.

The FDA received millions of applications from vaping industry manufacturers in 2020. It denied marketing for more one million flavored vaping products.

Altamore described the FDA's process as "rigorous and expensive ... similar to a pharmaceutical approval with expensive, long-term trials and studies."

While vaping is viewed by many to be safer than traditional cigarette use because the liquids tend to have fewer chemicals in them, e-cigarette use, especially among youth, is often seen as a gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes and the use of drugs.

But appealing to youth was never part of Altamore's plan.

"If you've never consumed nicotine, why would you start vaping? We don't encourage that," Altamore said. "This is meant to get smokers off of cigarettes. That's why we started this. That's why most people are in the game."

After a $20,000 fine from the FDA in December, Altamore says he's done.

"The hardest thing I truly had to do was tell my employees they're out of a job," he said. "But I think they'll be fine. They're all pretty bright people, and a lot of them are younger. There's plenty of jobs out there."

Following July 1, Altamore said he plans to spend more time at his other business, Marco's Slots, a bar located at 7164 Cherryvale N. Blvd., in Cherry Valley.

Chris Green is a Rockford Register Star general assignment reporter. He can be reached at 815-987-1241, cgreen@rrstar.com and via X .