Valdosta Daily Times

Business

September 29, 2013

Up in Vapor

The Business of E-cigarettes

VALDOSTA — Vaping seems like something that would involve overwrought melodrama concerning immortal beings with sparkly skin, but, surprisingly, it does not.

Vaping, as a word, has come to be used to describe the act of smoking an electronic cigarette, or more specifically, using a small electronic device to inhale vaporized flavored liquid that may or may not contain nicotine.

The growing business of vaping is a brave new world that is grossing billions a year, but it may require more than a few moments of your attention to understand how it works. Thankfully, Andrew Tatler-Burgess of Vapeus in Downtown Valdosta offers a simple explanation of what is happening inside these devices.

“You have a battery. You have a coil. You have a wick system that goes through the coil. You have something to hold the juice, and then you have the juice. When you hit the button, it energizes the coil and heats it up. The wick that goes through the coil is also heated. The mixture that goes through the coil becomes vaporized, and that’s what you take into your lungs,” said Tatler-Burgess.

The vapor delivers the drug nicotine into the bloodstream without the tar and other substances usually associated with traditional cigarettes. Tatler-Burgess said the liquid being vaporized contains “four basic elements: flavoring suspended in a propylene glycol base, nicotine and vegetable glycerine.”

Some customers vape for recreation. Others use vaping as a means to wean themselves off of tobacco, and over the past few years it has become big business.

Electronic cigarettes took in $2 billion in 2011 and are expected to account for 4 percent of all nicotine delivery devices by 2050, according to research firm Euromonitor

International.

However, a distinction is made in the industry between vaping products and electronic cigarettes. E-cigarettes, like those available from Blu Cigs or NJOY, are designed to look and feel like traditional cigarettes while vaporizers are slightly larger and look more like they belong in the hands of the caterpillar from “Alice in Wonderland” than dangling from Audrey Hepburn’s cigarette holder.

“In my own experience, and in the experience of my customers, vaping is a much more effective way to get off cigarettes,” said Tatler-Burgess.

Much like nicotine patches or gum, smokers looking to kick their nicotine habit can switch to vaping and regulate the amount of nicotine they inhale, slowly decreasing the amount until their bodies no longer crave it.

“We can fill the tank with any flavor juice and with whatever level nicotine we carry. Six, 12, 18, and 24 milligrams per milliliter, which is pretty much industry standard. I can even alter the levels within those ranges. You can’t do that with electronic cigarettes. We even have people who come in who want zero milligrams of nicotine. They just want the flavor,” said Tatler-Burgess.

Regardless of the reason why people are using these devices, not everyone is sure what to do with them.

Vaping products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Agency or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. At the moment, the industry operates under self-imposed standards, and that has caused many to worry.

This past week (Sept. 24), attorneys general from 41 states sent a letter to the FDA asking it to regulate the “advertising, ingredients, and sale to minors of electronic cigarettes.” The letter specifically claimed that the FDA has the authority to do so

under the Tobacco Control Act that gives the agency regulatory power over products “derived from tobacco.” Nicotine is extracted from tobacco, so there is some substance to the claim.

The signatures for the attorneys general from Georgia and Florida are not found on the letter.

“In the state of Georgia, you don’t have to card for nicotine, only tobacco. But we card our customers the same anyway because I find it unethical to sell to underage customers,” said Tatler-Burgess, “I believe regulation will come in, and the FDA will be involved. I hope it gets regulated soon.”

Action from the FDA is not guaranteed, but the agency warns on its website that consumers have “no way of knowing how much nicotine or other harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use.” In 2010, the FDA issued letters to several electronic cigarette manufacturers for various violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act.

“I know exactly what is in my juice. People will buy their juices wholesale in China, and we have no control over what China does.

“When we set up our business here, we decided to have our own lab, and I’m trying to bring up my lab to as near compounding pharmacy lab standards as I can get them,” said Tatler-Burgess.

The uncertainty surrounding the industry is not limited to its production and sale. Business owners and building managers are being forced to decide how they will deal with people who use vaping devices in their buildings. Technically, it is not against the law because they are not smoking tobacco.

The Times was unable to find a Valdosta area restaurant or business with an official written policy concerning e-cigarettes, and a few quick calls demonstrated that a consensus has yet to emerge.

Cheddar’s on Norman Drive will allow you to “smoke” e-cigarettes in the indoor dining area while Steel Magnolia’s in Downtown Valdosta will allow it on its rooftop seating area.

A representative for a large group of local restaurants said their policy is to not allow them at all because it creates confusion among other patrons who might believe that tobacco is being smoked indoors when it is not.

Other restaurants were simply unsure because they have not had to deal with the issue yet.

“They allow them in hospitals,” said Jessica Narcovich, owner of Up N Vapors, an e-cigarette retailer on North Patterson Street. “My husband has been in hospitals in Florida and in Georgia, and there has never been a problem.”

Valdosta State University is in a similar situation. The school “has a tobacco use policy that outlines the use of tobacco products on campus, it does not include the use of e-cigarettes or smoke-free products,” said VSU Director of Communications Thressea Boyd. Theoretically, students can vape in VSU buildings or even in the classroom, but students could be asked to stop by instructors because it can create a distraction.

Valdosta has a ban in place that prohibits smoking in all enclosed work spaces and restaurants. The ban is meant to protect people from the well-documented dangers of secondhand smoke. Research detailing the makeup of exhaled nicotine vapor has yet to be released, so any potential dangers are not yet known.

“It’s just a water vapor. That’s all it is,” said Narcovich.

It may be just water vapor, but there is no way to know for sure at the moment. That may not matter. Sales are rising.

“We opened in December, and our numbers have more than doubled since then,” said Narcovich.

While e-cigarette and vaping supply vendors wait for the FDA to move on regulation, another conflict may emerge first: the battle of prices.

A standard vapor starter kit costs approximately $40 from most local vendors, but Tatler-Burgess from Vapeus may be starting a local price war by seriously undercutting his competitors.

“Our hardware is available at very fair prices. $18 as compared to $40. I don’t charge $10 for 10 milliliters of juice. I Charge $6 for 15 milliliters,” said Tatler-Burgess.

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