No longer are paper-rolled cigarettes — the tar-producing kind with tobacco and chemicals mixed into a potent, carcinogenic blend — the flavor of the week.
Liquid nicotine, heated with a battery-powered device that produces vapor to inhale, is the new smoker chic.
According to Wells Fargo estimates, personal vaporizers, e-cigarettes and their accessories are a $3.5 billion industry, and could grow to as much as $10 billion over the next two or three years.
According to Yelp, at least a dozen vape stores are located across Gainesville, Dawsonville, Cleveland, Flowery Branch, Buford and unincorporated Hall County.
This does not include convenience stores and headshops that also sell vaporizers and accessories.
Country E-Cig opened its doors on Browns Bridge Road about a year and a half ago and is now finding its niche in the market, according to the store’s owners, with customers who have smoked for a long time looking to give vaping a try.
It’s becoming all the rage. And now the Food and Drug Administration is taking notice, and will likely move to regulate the industry in the name of safety in the coming months.
Poisoning cases among children and growing use by teens has the FDA poised to give the same oversight to liquid nicotine that it reserves for traditional tobacco products, which will require manufacturers to file applications detailing ingredients and health effects.
This potential new red tape and regulatory cost has put the vape industry on edge.
“We’ve definitely been going against it,” said Josh Oliver, manager of Madvapes in Buford. “It will definitely mess stuff up and make it more difficult (to operate).
According to the American Vaping Association, an industry trade group, rules and restrictions will benefit Big Tobacco, who can afford such costs, at the expense of small-time manufacturers and distributors such as Madvapes.
“We wouldn’t have a chance,” Oliver said, adding that consumers will likely pay more if the FDA has its way.
It’s that spirit of competition, however, that keeps Russell Ouellette, the owner of Russell’s Vape Lounge on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville, from becoming too worried.
“It’s not even a concern of mine,” Ouellette said, adding that he plans to open a new location, likely in Oakwood, sometime this fall.
Ouellette said he’s confident that consumers are wise enough to understand the difference between the e-cigarette products offered by companies like Reynolds American, Inc., which produces Newport and Camel cigarettes, and Philip Morris USA, which produces Marlboro.
For example, the e-cigarettes produced by Big Tobacco cannot be refilled like personal vaporizers, and independent manufacturers offer more flavors with varying nicotine levels.
Many people, Ouellette among them, credit vaping with allowing them to quit smoking cigarettes.
Vaporizing typically produces fewer carcinogens than lighting up, for example. Even the American Heart Association has acknowledged that vaping can help people quit.
Ouellette said he smoked for decades before turning to vaporizers for health reasons, and he counts himself among others in the industry that believe a conspiracy is afoot, orchestrated by the FDA in collusion with Big Tobacco, to crush the vape industry.
“They want people to fail at quitting,” Ouellette said.