MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Many smokers know their habit is dangerous and unpleasant to those around them, but they have a hard time putting their cigarettes down. However, stores offering E-cigarettes are attracting customers who wish to become ex-smokers by introducing them to vaping.
Vaping, the use of E-cigarettes and other vaporizers as an alternative nicotine delivery method, has any proponents who claim vaping can help smokers quit smoking cigarettes.
Although the manufacturers and sellers of E-cigarettes are not allowed to market the devices as smoking cessation devices, personal testimonies from people who have broken their smoking habit are driving the industry forward.
The Vape Saloon, a vaping supply store that recently opened in the Retail Commons in Martinsburg, is one of three vape stores currently operating in Martinsburg.
As the name suggests, The Vape Saloon features wild West- themed decor and a “bar,” where vapers can taste-test E-liquids (also known as “E-juices”), the nicotine-containing liquid used to fill E-cigarettes.
According to Spencer Little, the manager of The Vape Saloon, many customers wander in simply to find out what vaping is. Little said some people come in for information so they can refer family and friends who currently smoke.
Little said one of the most common questions people who enter the store ask is about the contents of the E-liquid.
“So many people aren’t really familiar with all the ingredients in cigarettes, but there are over 2,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke,” Little said. “There are four basic ingredients in your E-liquid. Propylene glycol, which is used in inhalers and fog machines. That’s a propellant, it helps to expand your lungs. Then you have vegetable glycerin, which comes from vegetables, and that’s where you get most of the vapor from. Then you have food-grade flavoring and your nicotine content, which depends on what that person needs.”
According to Little, a person who smokes a pack of cigarettes each day generally needs 18 miligrams of nicotine in an E-liquid to start. E-liquids may contain zero miligrams of nicotine, six miligrams, nine miligrams, 12 miligrams, 18 miligrams or 24 miligrams of nicotine. A vaper who vapes to quit smoking will gradually reduce the nicotine content of the E-liquid they use, stepping down as needed, Little said.
Little points to customer testimonies and his personal experience as evidence that E-cigarettes can help people quit smoking and reduce their nicotine intake.
“A woman came in when we first opened, and she was a 30-year smoker smoking two packs a day. Within a few weeks, she came back in and said she had only smoked five cigarettes in a week,” he said.
Personally, Little said he tried using nicotine patches and nicotine gum with little success. He tried Chantix, a pill created for smoking cessation, and said he experienced “horrible nightmares,” a common side effect of taking the drug.
“A lot of people (who are beginning vapers) get down on themselves for having those few cigarettes, but any reduction is still progress. If the woman I mentioned is already down to five cigarettes from two packs a day, where’s she going to be in another week? You’re still going to have that urge, it’s human nature, but it’s definitely working for people. My last cigarette was on December 13 of last year,” he said.
Little said he thinks one of the reasons smokers find it easier to reduce their nicotine intake with vaping is that it mimics the hand-to-mouth motion of smoking.
He said the many options for customization may also be attractive to people who want to put a personal touch on their device.
“When you look at all the different colored batteries, the different shapes and sizes of tanks, it’s more of that fact that you were stuck with a generic white cigarette before. I don’t want to call (an E-cigarette) a fashion statement, because it’s not, it’s a kit to quit, but you can walk down the street and have your own device that nobody else has. You can have what you want,” Little said.
Little said he absolutely does not recommend vaping for people who are not already smokers.
“It’s a nicotine-based product. It’s an alternative, and people do end up coming to vaping from smoking,” he said. “Is everybody who buys an E-cigarette a current or former smoker? No, but I recommend that nobody gets an 18, 12 or even six miligram nicotine juice if they’ve never smoked before. It’s not a habit to start picking up, it’s a way to get away from another habit.”
Contrary to some misconceptions, E-cigarettes and E-liquids are not sold or marketed to minors. In most states, including West Virginia, E-cigarettes are handled with the same treatment as other tobacco products and are not for sale to minors under the age of 18.
Little said he asks for customers’ identification, and he himself has been carded at three other vape shops.
“As far as I know, everybody is carding, or at least they should be,” he said.
Ashley Cookus of Martinsburg came into The Vape Saloon to pick up another tank (the part of the vaporizer that holds the E-liquid) and some more liquid.
Cookus, formerly a one to one-and-a-half pack a day smoker, said she is trying vaping to quit smoking.
“I’ve been vaping for about a year now, on and off. It usually works for me,” she said. “I want to stick with it because a lot of my family has died from COPD from smoking. I lost both of my grandparents to smoking, so I’ve been trying to cut down becuase of that. Also, with vaping, I don’t stink like smoke.”
By her calculations, Cookus said she saves approximately $150 per month each month she vapes. Cookus said vaping can initially be expensive when buying a vaporizer, but over time, the cost savings become apparent.
Cookus said she chooses her vaping devices and supplies by what her friend who vape use.
“I see what my friends are using and I try that out. I go by what they have and what the recommend, as well as coming to shops like this. Word of mouth is how vaping has gotten so big,” she said.