DIXON – Ranae Bell has smoked for 24 years, and she is finally ready to kick the tobacco habit. But the Ohio woman needs a little help.
“I didn’t really smoke a lot, but lately I’ve been smoking more,” she said. “It’s just so expensive now, and I want to quit.”
To help her quit, she took a cue from her sister, and decided to try e-cigarettes, equipped with varying amounts of nicotine. Tuesday morning, she was waiting outside the door of Effervesce Vapors, a new vapor cigarette shop at 112 S. Peoria Ave., somewhat nervously waiting for it to open at noon.
“My sister quit regular cigarettes 2 months ago, and she swears by this,” Bell said.
Bell said she had tried her sister’s e-cigs and liked the watermelon-flavored juice. Owner Justin Meyers went to work helping her put together a starter kit. For those who smoke about 15 cigarettes a day, the cost is about 60 cents to 80 cents a day, depending on usage, Meyers said. The switch from traditional cigarettes to e-cigs is estimated at $1,600 in savings a year for 1-pack-a-day smokers.
Electronic cigarettes have been around since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the technology was upgraded to a point at which the industry was primed for takeoff.
“The technology piggybacked over so many other industries,” Meyers said. “Lithium ion batteries power these, just like your laptops.”
A microprocessor is used in the e-cig. A silicon chip works like a sensor, telling an atomizer to heat the liquid and create vapor smoke when the user takes a drag. The chip also regulates the LED at the tip of the e-cig that looks like a flame.
It helps that Meyers has a technology background – he is the systems administrator at Ken Nelson Auto Group. The technology is changing so rapidly now, that the industry is even struggling to keep up.
“Justin has a knack for building them,” said Marleny Meyers, Justin’s wife and co-owner of Effervesce Vapors. “This technology changes monthly, and you really have to keep up with it.”
The rapid technology changes, in addition to the meteoric growth of the industry, has made it difficult for small shop owners to even keep the stores adequately stocked. The e-cig business has grown 72 percent over the past year.
A recent change in coils came midproduction for the manufacturers. What had been a 1-week turnaround on the ordering process became a wait of anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks. Justin said he was literally chasing the UPS man down the street Tuesday, hoping his new coils had arrived. He brought them with him when he opened the store that day, a bit out of breath but sporting a big smile, nonetheless.
“This is a worldwide thing,” Justin said. “It’s huge in Europe, and the growth is draining inventories everywhere. No supplier can keep up with the growth right now.”
Sterling store in works
The owners plan to strike while the iron is hot. They are negotiating a lease deal for a second store in Sterling. The don’t want to reveal the location yet, but they did say it was in a high-traffic area not in the downtown. They hope to open the second store by mid-July.
Another e-cig store is getting ready to open on First Street in Rock Falls.
The Meyerses’ Sterling store will be larger than the one in Dixon, allowing them to create more of a lounge atmosphere.
“The Sterling store is double the square footage, so people could rebuild and test their devices here,” Justin said.
Marleny also hopes to take advantage of the extra space to educate customers.
“We can go over the dos and don’ts, like making sure you keep the liquid away from kids,” she said. “We can sit down with customers and do coils and focus more on the work areas.”
While the growth of the industry was definitely a draw, the Meyerses are passionate about the difference vaping can make in people’s lives.
“I had tried to quit smoking several times and never quit,” Marleny said. “Justin came home with one, and we both quit smoking. Many of my friends have given up traditional cigarettes for vaping.”
Marleny says the impact goes beyond helping people give up traditional cigarettes. She sees changes that range from cleaner-smelling clothing and homes, to what in some cases could be life-saving health alterations.
“I’ve seen people regain the lung capacity to work out again, and start losing weight,” she said. “Eating habits change – I started eating three meals a day again without tobacco suppressing my appetite.”
E-cigarettes are not regulated by the government. But in April, the federal Food and Drug Administration told Congress it wants to regulate e-cigs in a manner similar to tobacco products. Scientific research is scrambling to catch up with the business, and meaningful safety data is hard to come by. The FDA, by its own admission, doesn’t know how much nicotine or other chemicals are being inhaled by e-cig users.
In the meantime, the agency seems to be taking a cautious approach, while conceding that the rules are likely to be less stringent than what the tobacco industry now faces. Many opponents are calling for advertising bans, fearing that the flavored juices are geared toward hooking kids who will then be led to traditional cigarettes.
It has taken the FDA more than 3 years to produce preliminary proposals, so while the agency could take some wind out of the industry’s sails, Justin says he isn’t overly concerned with looming regulatory roadblocks.
“We’re 9 months out from any regulations that could come, and we’re probably 3 years out from anything really happening.”
He believes there should be some regulation, but he doesn’t want to see the government create an extreme scenario in which only the largest 1 percent could afford to stay in the business.
“I believe in basic regulation with childproof lids, and pharmaceutical regs, but it would be horrible to stop something that helps people who couldn’t quit smoking any other way,” Justin said.
112 S. Peoria Ave.
Monday through Friday – Noon to 8 p.m.
Friday and Saturday – Noon to 9 p.m.
Sunday – Noon to 6 p.m.