WASHINGTON CITY – A huge demand for nicotine vaporizers in Southern Utah has motivated a group of friends to open the first local shop exclusively selling nicotine vaporizers, or “vapes,” and their products. The business, Cloud 9 Vapor, opened last week in Washington at 293 East Telegraph Street, Unit 205.
Cloud 9 Vapor jumps into an industry that sells what many deem an invention-of-the-century for people trying to quit smoking – a public health godsend. But, according to anti-tobacco organizations, however beneficial these devices might be to smokers, they’re really just the newest thing aimed at enslaving more people to the throes of nicotine addiction.
The overall sales of tobacco products in the U.S. has trended downward since the 1960s, but the vape market is growing so fast some analysts predict it will overcome cigarette sales in the coming years. This explosive growth has insured that, so far, vapes have been virtually unregulated – at least, they are not regulated like cigarettes.
Although the most recent Utah vape analysis, done by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, isn’t yet making a value judgement on vapes, they are suggesting that the Food and Drug Administration quickly standardize and regulate the manufacturing and sale of them.
Anti-tobacco groups are claiming that more standard regulations would protect the public, especially kids, from the unregulated doses of nicotine in these products. More research is being done, but favorable proof of the benefits of vapes seems to be mostly anecdotal.
Are you smoking? No, I’m vaping.
Nicotine vaporizers, also known as “vapes” or e-cigarettes or e-cigs, give the sensation of smoking to a user, without smoke. The term “vaporizer” and “e-cigarette” are often used interchangeably, although e-cigs are typically smaller in size than vaporizers. Instead of smoke entering the lungs, like a cigarette, a liquid mixture containing the stimulant nicotine is vaporized and inhaled through the vaporizing device. It is like inhaling off of a miniature boiling teapot filled with a liquid nicotine blend. No smoke, only vapor.
The liquid nicotine, known as “juice,” is heated inside a cartridge using a miniature battery powered heater coil inside the device. These juice mixtures typically contain three things: nicotine, a flavor, and what Brendon Gunn, founder of Cloud 9 Vapor, calls “base.”
Base is either propylene glycol – or PEG – the stuff smoke machines use to fabricate fake smoke, or vegetable glycerin, a vegetable oil-like compound widely used in foods and medications. The base creates a smoke-like exhaling sensation. Without this, nothing visible would be exhaled, and the user would only get the inhaling effect of smoking.
“There is no smoke involved in vaping,” Gunn said over and over again.
In fact, none of the employees at Cloud 9 use the term smoke in the shop.
An overwhelming demand for vapes in Southern Utah
The actual devices that vaporize the juice come in all different shapes and sizes depending on the manufacturer of the device. Invented in 2004, vaporizers resembled a quasi-cigarette. Now, countless companies are manufacturing their own style of vaporizers with an additional herd of localized companies manufacturing and selling their own varieties of juice.
One website, Utah Vapers, offers an incomplete list of over 25 retail vaping outlets throughout northern and central Utah but none thus far in Southern Utah.
This is where Gunn and Cloud 9 come in. Gunn discovered vaping in 2011. This strange device created a buzz in his circle of friends, which seemed to expand throughout the St. George area. Gunn, already a business owner, started to manufacture and sell his different flavored juices. There came a time for Gunn, a year ago, when he was so overwhelmed with the constant demand for vape juice that he had no time to work his regular job. This local demand convinced him to quit his old job, recruit a few friends, and open a shop.
Gunn views his shop as a benefit to the local public health. Other’s definitely don’t.
How safe are they?
At the heart of the controversy lies a dilemma. Does the public benefit more from vapes’ ability to help smokers quit cigarettes? Or, does the public suffer as more nonsmokers, specifically kids, are being introduced to nicotine? Nicotine is an extremely addictive substance known to be toxic when consumed in high doses. Nicotine has also been shown to cause heart disease and other health problems when consumed long term. On the other hand, vaporizers do not include tar, carbon monoxide, charcoal, or any of the other hundreds of destructive chemicals found in cigarettes.
Even though tobacco use has continued to trend down in the United States, 45 million Americans, or 1 in 5 adults, are addicted to tobacco products. This is why most anti-tobacco organizations are staying open-minded about the idea that vaporizers could be a benefit – once they are standardized and regulated.
Underage vaping – on the rise
One person working toward legislation to standardize and regulate vaping devices is Adam Bramwell, who worked with the anti-tobacco truth campaign for five years before taking a position as the marketing director for the Utah Department of Health, Tobacco Prevention and Control.
The preliminary results of a survey done by the Utah Department of Health are showing that the number of high school kids who have tried nicotine vaporizers have doubled in two years, Bramwell said. Mirroring that study, a senior analyst at Wells Fargo has recently announced that sales from nicotine vaporizers across the United States are expected to double this year. This would make e-cigs a $1.7 billion industry.
This quick growth hasn’t allowed most government organizations time to study and regulate these products. As a result, they don’t fall under strict marketing regulations like traditional cigarettes.
Glamorized vaping commercials – eerily similar to old tobacco ads
Traditional cigarette companies cannot advertise like any other American product.
“The only place the tobacco industry can advertise is in magazines,” Bramwell said, “no TV ads, no radio adds, no web banners.”
Because nicotine vaporizers don’t fall under that same regulation, they can advertise anywhere they want. Consequently, vape ads are proliferating across all platforms – especially the internet.
These advertisements have an eerie resemblance to old cigarette ads. Ads like the internet ad linked here (from one of the most successful e-cigarette companies, Blu eCigs, glamorize vaping-using celebrities like Jenny McCarthy. This and many other commercials use celebrities to tout vaporizers as a guilt-free version of cigarettes – claiming that vaporizers ultimately give their users more freedom.
Is that an iPod? No, it’s a vaporizer
These ads aren’t the only way vapes are appealing to kids, Bramwell said. They come in a multitude of tasty flavors, and are designed to appeal to younger generations. Many vapes have a sheer, modern, electronic look. Some of the newer editions even have a suspicious resemblance to iPods and come with a port to charge the user’s cell phone and iPod using the vaporizer’s battery.
The marketers know that most people start smoking as kids.
“These things just look like so much fun if you’re a teenager,” Bramwell said. “They even smell interesting.”
At Cloud 9, Gunn said in clarification that customers may not vape indoors unless they are testing a product. But, when one walks into the shop, the product testing positively smells delicious. A customer was there testing flavors from what is to become Cloud 9’s “flavor bar.” The most popular flavors are pineapple, blueberry, coffee, and cappuccino.
Can “anyone” make and sell this stuff?
The flavors and design aren’t the only concern for Bramwell and the Health Department. There are currently very few regulations about who can make them, and who can sell them. Although he’s all for small business, Bramwell said, consumers need to realize that the juice ingredients vary widely depending on the manufacturer. He said he is concerned that most of the manufacturers aren’t trained chemists, and are “just buying the juice, downloading instructions online, and then mixing it up.”
Gunn, although not claiming to be a chemist, said that he has studied chemistry, especially relating to vaporizing and its components. Also, Gunn requires his employees to follow a strict protocol when making juice. Cloud 9 uses hospital grade ingredients, Gunn said, and handles the ingredients as if they were in a laboratory. His juices and flavors are made of only the best products, he said.
“The flavors are designed for vaporizing by companies who make flavorings for large food distributors, candy companies, and even hospitals nationwide,” Gunn said.
Besides the manufacturing of juice, another concern of Bramwell’s is that vape shops are not taxed or regulated like other tobacco products. In Utah, companies who sell tobacco products have to apply for a permit and go through training on how to prevent underage sales. If local companies are found to be selling tobacco products to minors, the state can take away their tobacco license. Local authorities even do yearly sting operations on companies suspected of selling tobacco to underage kids.
In Utah, because vaporizers contain nicotine, they cannot legally be sold to minors. But, they still don’t fall under the same strict regulations traditional tobacco products do.
“E-cigarettes are just in this grey area right now because they’re so new,” Bramwell said. “They can be sold anywhere people want to sale them.”
But, they can’t be vaped anywhere you want to vape them. The state of Utah was able to include vaporizing devices in its Clean Air Act legislation. So despite what some people think, vaporizing indoors, in parks, or anywhere within 25 feet of a public building is illegal in Utah.
Could vaping take down Big Tobacco?
Vaporizers aren’t only giving government officials stress. This exploding market might be threatening Big Tobacco. And Big Tobacco, Gunn said, is stirring the pot. If the vape market continues to grow, he said, big tobacco could lose it’s stanglehold on smokers.
“If I were the tobacco industry right now I would be trying to create as much controversy over this as possible,” Gunn said. “They do not want this product to exist.”
Big Tobacco has a game plan, and Gunn is urging regulators to be aware of it; he said: “I believe that the way (Big Tobacco) will eventually capitalize in this market is to lobby to create as much regulation as absolutely possible.”
While more regulation to come could affect small vape companies like Cloud 9, unfortunately for Gunn, Big Tobacco has already seized some of the vape market. All three of the major U.S. tobacco companies – Altria/Philip Morris, Reynolds American and Lorillard – are currently selling vape products nationally. In fact, Lorillard recently purchased Blu eCigs, one of the top selling vape product companies in the U.S. Cloud 9 proudly displays Blu eCigs on their “wall of shame” along with other vaporizer products they do not recommend.
Protecting the public health
Gunn said he believes that nicotine vaporizers are giving smokers an alternative to traditional cigarettes and that alone is a godsend. To Gunn, vapes are a simple option that allow consumers to control the amount of nicotine they’re consuming.
“Our main goal is to provide the smokers of this community an option,” Gunn said. “And our biggest concern is public safety.”
That sounds very similar to the Health Department’s top concern: “Our goal is to help the public stay healthy and safe,” Bramwell said.
While Gunn and Bramwell continue to put great effort into their own respective concepts of public health, one thing’s for certain, the nicotine industry is still alive and well, even in Southern Utah.
Vaporizers have been used to vape drugs besides nicotine. Gunn said that absolutely none of the vaporizers he sells have the capabilities of vaporizing illicit drugs. Liquified forms of other drugs vaporize at uniquely different temperatures requiring a stronger heater and battery.
Possible unintended uses of the vaporizers with illicit drugs is beyond the scope of this report.
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