In less than three months, three area e-cigarette businesses have opened their doors, and owners say the new form of cigarettes is bringing in a steady business.
Instead of lighting a cigarette, many are turning to vaping, the act of puffing on a battery powered cigarette, and there are now stores in Marietta, Belpre and Vienna to cater to those consumers.
The e-cigarette shops popping up around the area could signify a growing area economy, said Charlotte Keim, president and CEO of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a sign that we have an economy that’s open to new ideas,” she said. “There is buying power here. The fact that many businesses open reflects well on the community.”
Vape-EZ, at 1810 Washington Blvd. in Belpre, opened in October and is set up to be a lounge so people can come in and vape together. Since opening, owners Tonya and Tony Hicks, of Elizabeth, W.Va., have seen plenty of interest in the products, they said.
“(Business) is pretty steady,” Tonya Hicks said, adding that many customers have just recently switched from tobacco cigarettes to the e-cigarettes.
Hicks said several customers had their last cigarettes in the parking lot before entering the store and making the switch to the e-cigarettes, which also can have nicotine.
Two of those are Jason Cox, 35, and Brenda Ullom, 51, both of Belpre.
“I’ve smoked for 17 years and I get that urge to reach for my first cigarette after waking up,” Cox said. “Now I grab a hold of (my e-cigarette) and I’m fine.”
Ullom said she had tried for many years to quit smoking.
“I tried the patch, the gum, the lozenge. I even tried cold turkey,” she said.
She’s been using electronic cigarettes for about three months now.
“I’ll eventually get to where I have no nicotine, but I’ll still use the flavors,” Ullom said, referring to the fact that there are flavored juices which contain no nicotine.
In addition to Vape-EZ, Freedom Vapor has opened two shops in the area: one at 1509 Grand Central Ave., Suite 5 in Vienna, and a second at 206 Putnam St. in Marietta.
Owner Melissa Traugh said the Vienna location has been busy, prompting the opening of the second store.
“We’re doing really well in Vienna,” Traugh said. “A lot of our customer base is in Ohio and they wanted a location in Ohio.”
Traugh said customers are allowed to try the flavors of juice before they make a purchase and first-time users are shown how to use an e-cigarette. She added that nicotine levels range from zero to 36.
Lindsey Farrar, 22, of Vienna, said she tried e-cigarettes and used them for three months last year.
“I cut back (on cigarettes),” she said. “I used (e-cigarettes) as a way to wean myself off of it. There are a lot of pluses to them.”
Farrar admitted that since the product is still relatively new she didn’t know a lot about any possible health impacts.
While many e-cigarette users are pleased to have an alternative to smoking a traditional cigarette, Stephanie Davis, program director for the Tobacco Prevention Program at Selby General Hospital, said there are still some risks.
“There are chemicals in e-cigarettes that can harm you,” Davis said. “Nicotine poisoning is a huge risk.”
Davis added that e-cigarettes are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
“There are no labels, so they can put children and pets at risk,” she said. “Some products that claim to be nicotine free are not. E-cigarettes are so new and people don’t really know a lot about the long-term effects.”
Davis said that while many are using e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking, there are safer alternatives such as the patch, gum and lozenges.
“I don’t discourage anyone from making the attempt to quit,” she said. “I would caution individuals to use their own method; there are other alternatives (than e-cigarettes) out there.”
Davis suggested calling the national quit smoking line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW and added everyone should “err on the side of caution” when using e-cigarettes, mainly because health professionals don’t know a lot about what’s in them.
Hicks advised users to be cautious and said she wouldn’t endorse e-cigarettes as a “healthier” alternative to smoking.
“I don’t recommend someone who doesn’t smoke to use these,” she said. “I will not sell to anyone under 18 years old, zero nicotine or not…(E-cigarettes) should be kept out of the reach of children and animals. I don’t sell these as a quit smoking (tool), I sell them as an alternative to smoking.”
E-cigarettes aren’t the first trendy product to cause a boom in business in the area, said Keim.
There were several synthetic drug shops that sold K2 before legislation forced them to close their doors.
“It was trendy in a bad way,” Keim remarked.
She said other businesses have also started up to meet new demand or trends: coffee shops such as Stoked and Skyline, which have had staying power due to the demand of coffee, locations that sell jewelry beads such as Pandora and Fenton glass beads and even micro-breweries.