Monday, Oct 20, 2014
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Smoke it or vape it


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Gazette correspondent

When my dad died at age 71, the main contributor to his heart failure was emphysema. A lifetime smoker, Dad never could kick the habit, and it undoubtedly shortened his life. As we all know, some people can’t get through a day without a cigarette. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 million Americans puff away despite sobering statistics showing that one in every five deaths because of illness can be attributed to smoking.

Remedies such as skin patches, injections and hypnosis sometimes work, but many revert back to smoking, and not just because they couldn’t beat their nicotine addiction. They also miss the tactile and visual aspects of smoking.

Some say that electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or e-cigs, check the boxes that smokers desire without the tar and most other toxins found in regular tobacco products.

E-cigs first were developed in China and hit the U.S. market in 2007, and sales now top $3 billion annually. A typical unit is a cigarette lookalike that consists of a lithium battery, a cartridge/mouthpiece and an atomizer that heats an e-liquid. A replaceable cartridge holds the e-liquid, which can taste similar to tobacco if desired or hundreds of other flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, cherry, mint and grape.

A push of a button activates the battery, and as one draws a breath on the mouthpiece, an atomizer heats the liquid that emits a vapor into the mouth. The e-liquid contains vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavoring and usually a level of nicotine. The vaporized liquid, which needs to be resupplied periodically, is inhaled or “vaped,” and the exhaled vapor emulates smoke.

“It’s a matter of harm reduction,” said Drew Nawoichik, owner of an online store and the Island Vape Shop on Clearwater Beach. “Vaping is completely smokeless. There’s no tar or carbon monoxide, no lighters or matches needed, no messy ashes or odors to deal with and nothing burns, so it’s not a fire hazard.”

Open since January, his shop caters exclusively to e-cig products. Numerous starter kits and e-cig models are on display, as well as an e-liquid juice bar. Shoppers can sample an e-cig and taste flavors from the juice bar.

While businesses like Nawoichik’s are doing well, many critics of e-cigs express concern. Issues include the presence of nicotine in most e-liquids offered, inaccurate product labeling or embellished claims by sellers, and studies suggesting that the inhaled vapors cause a rise in airway resistance. The Centers for Disease Control also reports recent increases in the number of calls to poison centers from e-cig users.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed having full disclosure of ingredients and health warnings on labels, plus prohibiting sales to minors, but so far the e-cig industry is self-regulating. Some countries and U.S. cities have banned or restricted e-cigs, while others freely allow them. The National Health Service describes e-cigs as merely the lesser of two evils compared to regular cigarettes while at the same time recognizing that nicotine emissions from most e-cigs are 10 times lower than those of burned tobacco.

Nawoichik, who smoked cigarettes for 30 years before switching to e-cigs, claimed that it’s a great alternative to smoking tobacco and far less harmful to the body, if at all. He added that nicotine e-liquid levels can be lowered gradually until the user is weaned completely off the stimulant drug.

“Vaping also saves hundreds of dollars per year over the cost of cigarettes without any tobacco smell on your clothes or in your car or house,” Nawoichik said.

Wife Kelly and I paid a visit to the Island Vape Shop and immediately noted a sign indicating anyone younger than 18 won’t be served. We viewed the array of e-cig kits with some in containers the size of eyeglass holders and prices starting at $30. However, all we wanted to do was give it a try. After vaping a blueberry-flavored e-cig, we found it simple to use and without any tobacco taste or smell.

E-cigs remain controversial, but no one can deny the exploding worldwide popularity of vaping. For details, visit an e-cig retailer or check out the Island Vape Shop, 61 Baymont St. For more information, call (727) 754-9751, e-mail islandvapeshop@gmail.com or visit www.islandvapeshop.com/.

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