BENNINGTON >> More smokers are trading in their cigarettes for “vape” products, but claims they can be used to quit nicotine altogether have not been proven. Still, the products are becoming more popular.
When Ed Dublois bought the Beverage Den and Smoke Shop on North Street in Bennington, Vt., a little over a year ago, E-cigarette products were already being sold.
“But not to the magnitude we have now, there was just a very small sampling,” Dublois said. “We’ve expanded the department, so to speak, probably 5,000 to 10,000 percent.”
When the products first started to become available, “E-cigarette” was the term many were using, but because the devices use vapor the term “vape” is more common. He said there are three main vape products one can buy. Vape pens, which take “juices,” can be bought for about $25. There are other devices, called “E-hookahs,” that are disposable after a few hundred “hits.”
E-cigarettes, themselves, are the size of a normal cigarette and the vapors come in menthol flavor and different levels of nicotine.
“Some manufacturers will offer those down to no nicotine, as well,” he said.
The juices for the vape pens come in almost any flavor one can think of. People can also buy juices with varying levels of nicotine.
He said many of the people buying these products say that is the main reason they are switching.
It’s this ability to control the level of nicotine that appears to be the source of one of the main controversies surrounding the product, that being: Can it be used as a tool to quit smoking?
The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any of these products for that use, said Victoria Silsby, tobacco coordinator for The Collaborate, a private non-profit group serving the Northshire that works to reduce substance abuse in youth. Because the FDA has not approved vape products as quitting tools, no group such as hers will recommend them for that. Moreover, the marketing being done for them seems heavily geared toward getting people to take up nicotine use, not put it down, she said.
Dublois said another reason people are switching from cigarettes to vape is the cost. A starter kit being a one-time expense, the juice containers run about $10 each. Depending on how heavily a person uses the vape product, one container can last as long as one or two cartons of cigarettes would. A carton being $80 each, the savings is significant.
The Beverage Den plans to expand its selection even further in the coming weeks, all because of customer demand.
The industry itself is growing and changing quickly, Dublois said. “Every couple of weeks, we’re hearing something new about something slightly different coming out.”
One of the most popular vape juices, he said, is from Vermont Vapor, a company based in Castleton, Vt.
“There are some kids who are going to start smoking,” Dublois said. “We’d rather they didn’t, but there are some that are just going to start smoking. The only shining light that exists is the fact there is a product here, and I don’t think anyone is going to profess to say this is healthy, like eating an organic apple or something, but compared to cigarettes? This is a much more sensible alternative.”
He said his store only carries products made in the United States. “And that’s key, because there’s a lot made in China and it’s not as regulated.”
Collette Dublois, co-owner of The Beverage Den, said the uncertainty about what regulations the FDA will impose has also driven a reliance on American-made products.
She said many of the people buying vapes are switching from cigarettes, but some are new to nicotine products entirely.
Silsby said nicotine gum and patches come with FDA-approved guidelines on how wean oneself off nicotine. Vape products do not, and the concern is people looking to quit are just replacing one addiction behavior with another. She said there is also little scientific data on how safe the vapor being inhaled actually is, both for the user and those experiencing it second-hand.
Maryann Morris, of the Collaborative, said while there has been anecdotal evidence of people quitting using vapes, there have been no solid studies showing they work for that purpose. She said the Collaborative wants people to quit using whatever works, but until more is known, they do not support vape products and are concerned the alleged benefits will draw young people toward nicotine.
Jim Carroll of Bennington said he was sent an E-cigarette for Christmas and the main reason he had switched has been cost.
“Smoking was just becoming too expensive,” he said.
Carroll said he smoked two, sometimes three, packs per day, his brand costing more than $6 per pack.
“The savings has been undeniable,” he said.
Carroll said he does not use the E-cigarette as much as he smoked, and feels it has done something to alleviate cravings. Before, he would wake up in the middle of the night to smoke a cigarette. He still wakes up, but more often than not forgoes using the E-cigarette.
While he does not think the product is healthy, and the vapor makes him cough more than cigarette smoke did, overall he feels better.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567, Ext. 115.