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Vapor shops rising in popularity in Gainesville
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Vaping mods, coils, atomizers and other vape-related items allow users to customize their vaping experience.

More on e-cigarettes

  • E-cigarettes are electronic devices that allow users to smoke a nicotine-containing substance called e-juice without ingesting the harmful carcinogens produced by tobacco.
  • The device produces water vapor rather than tobacco smoke, eliminating the hazard of secondhand smoke.
  • While the cancer-causing element is eliminated, nicotine is still a highly addictive substance. 
  • Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are largely unregulated by the FDA.
  • Proponents argue that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than traditional cigarettes, and can even help traditional smokers stop using tobacco.
  • Opponents want flavored e-juice banned, as they argue flavors like bubblegum and cotton candy will entice children to become addicted to nicotine.

Ouellette was a long-term smoker, and the doctor wouldn’t perform the surgery unless he gave up cigarettes.

“I tried Chantix (a smoking cessation drug), I tried the gum, I tried everything under the sun to quit,” Ouellette, 51, said.

The solution Ouellette needed was part of a booming yet still vaguely under-the-radar industry.

“This was the thing that got me to quit,” he said, referring to the array of electronic cigarettes, e-juice and accessories he now sells in Russell’s Vape Lounge, his store on Dawsonville Highway.

Ouellette’s ability to quit cigarettes — and the success of his business — are all part of the larger e-cigarette trend, which has exploded in popularity since its emergence in 2007.

“(E-cigarettes are) a great way to give up a nasty habit,” Ouellette said. “It is life-changing.”

Electronic cigarettes come in all shapes and sizes, but every model includes the same components: a rechargeable lithium battery, an atomizer containing a heating coil, a sensor that activates the device whenever the user takes a drag, an LED light to mimic a burning cigarette and a cartridge containing a substance most often referred to as “e-juice.”

Though e-juice doesn’t contain tobacco, it does contain nicotine extracted from tobacco plants, as well as chemicals like glycerin or polyethylene glycol and flavoring.

The process of smoking an e-cigarette is called “vaping,” for the water vapor that is produced by the device. Most users report vaping is an experience remarkably close to that of smoking a real tobacco cigarette.

The benefits of smoking an e-cigarette lie in its lack of tobacco: with no smoke, the user doesn’t ingest the toxic carcinogens known to cause a variety of cancers and other maladies.

Ouellette mixes the e-juices he sells in-house, so they can contain whatever combination of flavors or amount of nicotine a person desires. This allows a customer to gradually lower the amount of nicotine they ingest over time, making it easier to quit.

“I have a lot of customers who came in here because they saw a lung specialist who told them they have to get off cigarettes,” Ouellette said. “They come here and they quit.”

Since Ouellette opened his store in 2013, he claims to have helped an estimated 2,700 Gainesville residents quit smoking tobacco by switching to e-cigarettes. But if you ask health professionals if they would recommend e-cigarettes to their patients, the jury is still out.

“There’s a great debate and controversy about e-cigarettes,” said Angie Caton, a registered nurse and oncology educator at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. “They’re less harmful than regular cigarettes, at least for the short-term use, but there’s no data about that vapor.”

Caton compares e-cigarette use to handing out clean needles to drug users.

“If people are still going to be addicted to nicotine at least they don’t have the harmful smoke,” she said. “The lack of the smoke itself will prevent a lot of disease.”

While e-cigarettes are not currently known to cause cancer, Caton said, that doesn’t mean users are engaging in a fully risk-free behavior. Nicotine is still a highly addictive substance with its own roster of negative side effects.

“Nicotine constricts blood vessels, it raises blood pressure, it increases heart rate,” Caton said. “It’s a very bad substance if you have heart disease or peripheral vascular disease. You don’t get blood where it needs to be.”

According to experts, e-cigarettes could be particularly hazardous for teens. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids released a study in December 2014 reporting that among 10th-graders surveyed, 16.2 percent reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, as opposed to 7.2 percent of those who reported using a traditional cigarette.

Among 12th graders, 17.1 percent reported using e-cigarette as opposed to 13.6 percent who reported traditional cigarette use.

“You light up a cigarette in your home and your mama’s going to get you, but you could hide an e-cigarette really easily,” Caton said.

E-cigarettes can also represent a particular hazard to young children. In December 2014, a 1-year-old boy became the first American to die accidentally from ingesting liquid nicotine.

In April 2014, the FDA announced plans to extend its authority over tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, an industry which is currently a “free for all” according to Caton. While she doesn’t believe kids should have any access to e-cigarettes whatsoever, she does recognize their ability to help “a certain type of person.”

“Some of our patients come in with bad pneumonias or bad (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) flare-ups, and the smoke (from cigarettes) could kill them, but then they go through these horrible withdrawals from nicotine,” she said. “The e-cigarette probably has a good role for that type of person.”

Meanwhile, business is so good at Ouellette’s Gainesville shop that he’s already made plans to expand to other areas.

But more than that, Ouellette genuinely seems to feel good about the service he and e-cigarettes offer customers.

“Once people come in, they’re bringing their mother and their brother and their co-workers, anyone they care about who uses cigarettes,” he said. “It’s a phenomenal industry that’s helping a lot of people.”

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