The “Vape Expo NJ” has been months in the making, but things went all wrong this weekend when health officials showed up and started issuing citations to promoters, vendors, attendees, and even the expo hall manager. When all was said and done, there were dozens of citations issued totaling $50,000 in fines for violating the New Jersey indoor smoke-free air law.
While the event was slated to last all weekend, Health and Human Services Director Jay Elliot shut the expo down early on Sunday. Event promoters Andy Balogh and Don Miller were furious when they receive 27 summonses each and saw their vendors and attending vapers fined as well. Balogh posted on social media, offering to pay fines for the vapers that showed up for the expo only to be issued citations.
Balogh insisted that the township had approved the event in advance. “The township signed off. They knew there would be vaping,” he said. But Elliot disagreed, pointing out that laws are laws and the smoke-free air laws must be followed even in a private exhibit hall. He said the town’s authorities were under the impression that the event was for a club, not a gathering of actual indoor vaping.
“It was effectively open to the public as long as patrons paid the $10 entry fee, vendors paid $25, and signed a document saying they were joining a club called the Vape Expo NJ 2015,” Elliot said. When they realized the whole exhibit hall was a one big cloud of vapor, they took action. “We worked with them for a couple of days, and I won’t say no effort was made.” At first, they agreed that vapers could sample nicotine-free eliquids outdoors, but people continued to vape inside the expo despite warnings posted everywhere. “Bottom line, it’s just not working,” Elliot explained.
Joseph Cascio, general manager of the expo hall, said he would have never agreed to the event if he knew the health officials didn’t approve. He believed that the organizers had already cleared the details with the township. When he found out that the expo was in violation, he posted warnings and passed out flyers to tell attendees not to vape inside. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough.
Eventually, health officials starting writing citations and then they shut down the whole expo on Sunday afternoon. Vendors were angry and started demanding refunds. “If we had any idea this was going to happen, we would never have gone to Edison,” Balogh said.
Do you think the city health officials crossed a line by approving the event and then issuing citations? Or was this a matter of poor planning on the part of the event organizers?