Electronic cigarettes: Local smokers join digital revolution

E-cigarettes often have their own displays, like this one for Blu e-cigarettes found in Rai
E-cigarettes often have their own displays, like this one for Blu e-cigarettes found in Rai's Smoke Shop in Federal Way.
— image credit: Greg Allmain/Federal Way Mirror

E-cigarettes are gaining in popularity as more smokers look for a "healthier" alternative to their habit.

Acting as a miniature vaporizer, e-cigarettes transfer nicotine to smokers through water vapor that is mostly odorless. Along with this, e-cigarettes also give consumers the options of different flavors for the vapor, ranging from cherry to vanilla to almost any taste one can imagine.

Local smoke shop owners are seeing an increase in the demand for e-cigarettes, with their customers citing a desire for that "healthy" alternative — or as a way to quit tobacco and nicotine altogether.

"The consumer base is definitely looking to find a healthier form of smoking," said Bobby Saberi, owner of Mary Jane's in Federal Way. "We're seeing a lot more interest in vaporizers. We're noticing an increase in sales, and a lot more demand every month."

Anjum Rai, owner of Rai's Smoke Shop, said his customers have expressed the same sentiments.

"People who want to quit (are buying these), and the other thing is, they say there might be less chemicals in these," he said. "(With e-cigarettes) they can smoke less. Because, with cigarettes, they have to finish the cigarette. With this, they can take one, two puffs."

Cost concerns may be part of the rise in popularity for e-cigarettes. Disposable e-cigarettes from companies like Blu sell for $9.99 and, according to their packaging, are good for 400 puffs or so — which equates to about a pack-and-a-half to two packs of regular cigarettes.

"Disposable" e-cigarettes from other companies can run anywhere from $3.99 to that upper limit of $9.99. The full "starter" kit that allows for the customizable flavors typically runs about $34.99, at least for the Blu brand.

The full kit has its own drawbacks, however, because of maintenance requirements that some may find irritating. Certain pieces of the devices must be cleaned and replaced relatively frequently.

The Mirror asked its Facebook fans what they thought about e-cigarettes, and found the same sentiments being expressed about wanting to quit, or wanting to find a cleaner and healthier alternative to smoking.

"I am using the Blu brand of electronic cigs," wrote Denise Rene Culbert Tapp. "I switched to these because they offer high, medium, low and zero nicotine. I am also trying to quit. (I've) used for over a week so far, and haven't even used what would amount to three packs. This is pretty darn good for me since I had started smoking over a pack a day."

Lisa Mehl's experience was a bit different in her attempt to switch to e-cigarettes.

"I had tried to switch but just can't," she wrote. "The good kinds are very expensive and so are the refills, plus it was always drying my mouth out when I would use it. I would love to find a cheap substitute to smoking, but this wasn't it for me."

As far as quitting smoking, one success story for e-cigarettes came from Jessica Lane.

"When I quit smoking, I went from the last three smokes in my pack, to smoking an e-cig for a week along with using the patch," she wrote. "I've been smoke free for three months now."

Legality and demand

It appears that the demand for e-cigarettes will only continue to grow. A July 29 report from trade publication Convenience Store News indicates that new projections for the e-cigarette business show $1 billion in sales this year alone, with that figure almost doubling if online sales are factored into the equation.

With this increasing demand and popularity, another issue e-cigarettes face is legality. Because e-cigarettes contain no tobacco and their only byproduct is water vapor, many people feel they should be allowed pretty much everywhere.

In King County, e-cigarette use is prohibited anywhere cigarette use is prohibited. The King County Board of Health passed an ordinance in late 2010 to ban their use in public. The board banned discounted or free "sales" of e-cigarettes, and also banned the sale of e-cigarettes to youth under age 18.

According to the county, the health claims made by manufacturers have not been approved by the FDA, and that the FDA had found that many companies misrepresent nicotine levels and the types/amounts of carcinogens contained in the devices.

Regardless of the product's gray areas concerning its legality and health claims, Rai says he'll keep them on the shelves at his Federal Way smoke shop for as long as there is a demand.

"Whatever sells and makes money, that's why we're here," he said.


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