From The Ashes
The emergence of ‘vaping’ and harm reduction
by Clay Neely / email@example.com
The emergence of e-cigarettes or “vaping” has become a growing trend around the world.
It’s also become a hot topic of debate.
While many see these new contraptions as a way to help current smokers drop the habit, many others believe they're nothing more than a gateway for teens to start a lifelong addiction.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered and deliver nicotine without combusting tobacco. They produce vapor, not smoke and come in a multitude of flavors. Coweta County is currently home to three different vape stores and so far, business is booming.
Ron Hynson and his cousin Trent (T.J.) Struck, the owners of Vapes Gone Wild, recently opened their latest shop atop the 300 Bullsboro building complex. This business is their first venture into retail.
So far, it’s been an overwhelming success story.
Hynson personally attests to the power of vaping. Prior to his introduction to the process of vaping, he was a heavy smoker and often used smokeless tobacco as well. Since discovering vaping, he swears he could never go back.
He’s also been quite successful in convincing fellow smokers to kick the habit. Hynson has converted practically everyone he knows away from the use of traditional cigarettes.
“Everyone in my family who used to smoke has now quit and vapes instead. The change you feel is instantaneous,” said Hynson. “Your body recognizes it, too.”
Hynson stated that his store has serviced several customers that were sent by request of their own doctors.
“One customer came in for his COPD. His doctor said, ‘If you can’t quit, do this instead,’ and he has been smoke free for six months now. We have another gentleman who has goes to the Cancer Treatment Centers (of America at Southeastern). He’s from Oklahoma but he comes here to get his juice.”
The “juice” is prepared with four things: Propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, super concentrated food flavorings and varying levels of nicotine.
“People get scared because they say, ‘Oh, propylene glycol. That’s in antifreeze.’ But that has nothing to do with your health. It’s used in antifreeze because it takes the sweet smell away so animals don’t drink it. It’s harmless and all USDA approved,” said Hynson.
Inside of all the local vape stores are plethoras of information for the curious, potential consumer. Fact sheets, testimonials, pamphlets and literature from a variety of publications are all in plain view for those perusing the store.
The literature is primarily focused on harm reduction — linking the practice of vaping to the health benefits that are derived from a life without cigarettes.
Hynson further explained why he believes that it’s a very positive movement in terms of bettering not only yourself but your loved ones as well.
“We have a customer who smoked three packs a day and she’s well into her 80s. She completely quit smoking with no problem and now she only vapes. It lets her feel better about herself and its better for her and the people around her,” said Hynson.
“My main goal is to help more people,” said Hynson. “I just want to get as many people as we can to make the switch. I don’t want my son to be out in public and having someone blowing secondhand smoke in his face. If you’re vaping, you’re not hurting the person next to you.”
According to Hynson, the biggest marketing tool for their business is word of mouth.
“When people come in our store, curious and uninformed, I’d say maybe 1 percent leave empty handed. Right now, our foot traffic is 60 to 90 transactions a day and that doesn’t include people just coming in to talk,” said Hynson. “The product simply sells itself.”
In terms of cost comparison between vaping and traditional smoking, the savings are exponential.
“Absolutely, it’s a money saver,” said Hynson. “A $13 dollar bottle of juice will last a half a pack a day smoker for a month. You’re saving money but most importantly, you’re saving your health.”
However, Chris Newman, owner of The Vaper Shop on Temple Avenue in Newnan, is weary of making his own juices and chooses not carry them in his store.
“Making juice is not for me,” said Newman. “There is a science to it. If you’re gonna make juice, who knows how many bottles of nicotine you’ll have of varying strengths lying around in the back of the store. And then add a couple hundred different flavorings into the mix as well. It’s too much for me to keep up with.”
Newman prefers to use laboratories that use machines to create the juice. “They test it before they send it out. That’s my whole thing. I don’t want anyone getting sick because of something I did. That’s why I let actual chemists do it,” said Newman. “My profit margin is good enough.”
On the other side of Newnan, Heather and Adam Turnage own Heather’s Heavenly Vapes. They launched their company website in 2012 and recently opened their own brick and mortar store on Highway 34 East.
Heather’s personal experience of switching from smoking to vaping caused her to pursue the business full-time.
“People are finding out that this works,” said Heather. “I have chronic bronchitis and am also an asthmatic. I was on way too many medications and I reached a point where I simply needed to stop smoking. That is how all this came about.”
“On the advice of my son, I tried an e-cigarette from a gas station, but it was terrible. So I decided to start making my own,” said Heather. “From there it turned into a hobby — making flavors for friends who wanted to quit smoking but were never successful until now. Now we’re running a very successful business.”
“I haven't used my nebulizer in years,” said Heather. “I used to have asthma constantly. I went to bed with my nebulizer. All my inhalers and using Albuterol, Advair, Singulair. I don’t take any of that anymore because I don’t need it.”
“For me, vaping has worked completely,” said Heather.
However, her husband and business partner, Adam Turnage, is wary of the inevitable forthcoming regulations from the FDA.
He believes that companies like Heather’s Heavenly Vapes could eventually face restrictions on how they are allowed to market their product, where they can sell and who can buy their products. Retailers who create their own juices could be subject to federal Food and Drug Administration inspections, and they could be forced to turn over detailed ingredient information to the agency and seek its approval before putting any new products on the market. However, depending on how broad the regulations from the FDA reach, Adam believes it could decimate the local stores and put the power back in the hands of the big tobacco companies. “The regulations are coming from big tobacco. They got into the game late,” said Adam. “They have the bankroll to destroy our business. Everything in this store would be deemed illegal if they have their way.”
At the moment, the emerging “call to action” for FDA regulation is primarily aimed at prevention — specifically teenagers. Teen smoking has been a long-standing, popular topic of debate and the current trend of “vaping” has reignited the dialogue.
Consumer Advocates for Smokefree Alternatives Association, or CASAA , is a non-profit 501(c) advocacy group that “is designed to raise awareness and ensure the availability of effective, affordable and reduced harm alternatives to smoking by increasing public awareness and education; to encourage the testing and development of products to achieve acceptable safety standards and reasonable regulation; and to promote the benefits of reduced harm alternatives.”
CASAA Vice President Kristin Noll-Marsh notes, "Consumers and industry are in complete agreement in supporting bans on sales to minors. Unfortunately, some anti-tobacco organizations have endeavored to block such bans and then use the absence of restrictions on sales to youth as an excuse to ban sales to adults. They do this even though cigarettes are legal and widely available. The sad truth is that children who want to smoke have no trouble acquiring cigarettes."
“In my personal opinion, if they pass all these laws and regulations, they’re going to essentially be turning all of my customers into criminals,” said Heather. “If the FDA goes through with their plans entirely, they want to eliminate all flavors because they believe it targets kids. Do they assume that adults don’t like the flavor of cake and cinnamon?”
At the moment, the State of Georgia has passed no laws regarding the admittance of minors into vaping stores, but all three of the stores have enacted their very own policy of 18 and over.
“It’s not a law, but it’s my personal belief that we won’t sell to minors,” said Heather. “We stand by that.”
However, according to Adam, one simply just needs to “follow the money” to determine the true reason for the FDA’s sudden call for alarm.
Adam believes that after the many years of facing heavy regulation that was solely directed at big tobacco, companies like Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds are now using the same strategy to combat the local mom and pop retailers that have been popping up within the last few years.
“You only need four ingredients,” said Heather. “They can’t tell flavor companies that they can’t sell flavors anymore. They’re not going to stop making propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin. All of these products are all legal but by putting them together it now becomes illegal? Do they want people going back to cigarettes?”
Heather believes that there are ways to regulate without destroying the local companies. “It’s not going to stop people from vaping or making their own flavors. It’s just going to turn them into criminals,” she said.
“There are thousands of us. Retailers and consumers. What are they going to do to us?” Heather asked.
Meanwhile, Hynson and Strunk are looking ahead with confidence. “We saw what the FDA had planned for the future and began doing it,” said Hynson. “We’ve taken our money and put it into a lab. It’s medical grade with stainless steel tiles. Before we make our juice, we suit into our gloves, masks, goggles and hair nets. We have eyewash stations and sinks. It’s a legit lab — a legit clean room. It makes us stand out.”
“Personally, I welcome FDA regulation,” said Newman. “Let them do inspections and make sure all labs are certified. That’s all great. But if big tobacco has their way, you can say goodbye to all these local stores. It’ll be a crying shame because this has worked for so many people in the community.”
It appears that the future is relatively uncertain at this point for the proprietors of the local vape shops and the forthcoming regulations that will be levied upon them.
However, none of the owners see any reason to alter their game plan at the moment.
“If a 90-year-old woman who has smoked for her entire life can switch to this without any negative side effects, that’s bad news for the cigarette makers,” said Newman. “I guess big tobacco hopes people will just keep on smoking but they’re not going to.”