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The Vaping Craze

news2 vapeElectronic cigarettes heat up in Santa Cruz County

Wen Wei is not a smoker. However, he did grow up in a Santa Cruz household full of cigarette smokers and watched helplessly as family members developed a litany of heart disease and lung problems.

So when electronic cigarettes emerged in 2002, the Harbor High graduate took notice. At the time, however, available e-cigarettes were considered highly unregulated gimmicks mostly advertised on porn sites and imported from China.

“We knew it was an interesting product that could change the way people perceive cigarettes and even have a positive health impact, but it was too early—the technology wasn’t mature enough,” says the 34 year old. “There weren’t that many producers, there was no regulation or accountability and we couldn’t control the sources of the chemicals that went into it.”

Originally considered smoking cessation devices, the FDA classified and regulated e-cigarettes as medical devices, but in 2010 this definition was overruled and they were regulated as tobacco products. As a result, e-cigarettes no longer required FDA approval, which launched a period of rapid development and enormous growth for the industry.

It was the moment Wei had been waiting for. In 2010, he and his partners began work on an e-cigarette product with design and function standards high enough to stand out in the newly competitive U.S. market. After “two to three years of development” and selecting only the “best manufacturers” to partner with, Beyond Vape was born. In May 2013, they opened their first retail store in Los Angeles.

“L.A. is the mecca of e-cigarettes,” Wei says. “We didn’t want to get into the online market because there’s just too much crap out there. When you buy online you take a huge risk. The retail revolution really legitimized the product. It gives people the opportunity to taste and try the product.”

Today, Beyond Vape boasts two stores in L.A., two stores in New York, and one in Capitola—which, according to Wei, has one of the densest smoking populations of any city in California. The American Lung Association recently issued the town a “C” grade in their 2014 State of Tobacco Control report.

“We lost money for two months because we gave away free samples,” Wei says. “Our main goal is to get people to actually like the experience so they can stick to it. We don’t want people to try it once and then go back to cigarettes.”

E-cigarettes generally use a heating element known as an atomizer that vaporizes a liquid solution called “juice.” Some solutions contain a mixture of nicotine and flavorings, while others release a flavored vapor without nicotine.

While “vaping” has been found to be conclusively safer than traditional cigarettes, many detractors are concerned that they are marketed heavily toward teenagers and that the secondhand aerosol emitted by the products may have deleterious effects on the public.

In fact, on Tuesday, March 25, the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously voted to treat e-cigarettes like combustible cigarettes, joining 40 other California cities in regulating the emerging technology like traditional tobacco. Councilmember Pamela Comstock cited the product’s unknown health impact, perceived marketing to children and potential to create a new generation of smokers as the primary reasons to update the ordinance to include e-cigarettes.

Lynn Lauridsen agrees with the decision. A member of the Santa Cruz Tobacco Education Coalition, Lauridsen believes the current “glamorous” marketing of e-cigarettes and the wide assortment of available flavors such as chocolate, cotton candy and piña colada, have a direct impact on luring youth into potential nicotine addiction.

“They are rapidly gaining popularity with young people,” Lauridsen says. “And the marketing is sending a lot of mixed messages. They look like cigarettes and deliver nicotine like cigarettes, but Beyond Vape’s radio ads make them sound like a smoking cessation tool. There’s no scientific proof that they help people quit smoking. The bottom line is we don’t want to see smoking re-normalized.”

Lauridsen believes e-cigarettes should fall under the same strong tobacco retail licensing policy as cigarettes—in other words, remain behind locked glass cases in all stores. In addition, she would like to see a ban on all flavored e-cigarettes.

Although the jury remains out on the long-term health risks of e-cigarettes, consumers have largely accepted the smokeless alternative as the lesser of two evils. American sales hit the $1 billion mark by the end of 2013, and are projected to reach $10 billion within five years.

Wei has no problem being lumped in with traditional cigarettes for now. He believes it is the e-cigarette industry’s responsibility—not the government’s—to educate the public about the differences between vaping and smoking.

“Anyone can see that our products and cigarettes are entirely different,” Wei says. “If they’re going to regulate us in the same way, fine. We welcome any kind of regulation because it forces manufacturers to produce a better product and ultimately evolves the industry.” 

Comments (6)Add Comment
Healthier Alternative
written by Kim A. , April 14, 2014
I disagree that e-cigarettes make it easier for kids to get a hold of and experiment with. Just with regular cigarettes, you have to be 18 or older to purchase. If a kid somehow gets a hold of e-cigarettes, it's the adult's fault for not keeping adult products out of reach from their kids.

In response to Chris: I'm not arguing that nicotine is good for you. I just believe that e-cigarettes offer a healthier alternative to smokers who have been smoking cigarettes that are choked full of tar and carcinogens. I've known countless people who have been avid smokers, and were able to quit because of e-cigarettes. So before you knock it, try to see it from another angle. Then maybe you'll understand why so many people are so eager to support it.
Researching The New Wonder Drug
written by Chris Kenney, April 05, 2014
Fatalities from cardiovascular disease in the U.S. have gone down proportionally as fewer Americans smoke. I wonder if your research included the recent Brown University study finding a major link between nicotine alone and atherosclerosis? (http://www.medicaldaily.com/nicotine-promotes-cardiovascular-disease-benefits-smoke-free-products-questioned-239838) As an ex-smoker, I can testify that equating nicotine addiction to coffee drinking is absurd, but it does show a level of rationalization that validates your admission of addiction.
Nicotine Addiction is No Worse Than Caffeine Addiction
written by skatoulaki, April 03, 2014
Reading a comment above, I was prompted to post. I was a smoker for many years. I quit a few times, but in all honesty I missed it. So what if I'm a "nicotine addict." Do we call coffee drinkers "caffeine addicts"? Nicotine actually has several proven health benefits. It's currently being researched for its benefits with memory loss and concentration, for use in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's treatment, and so many other things. What is harmful to smokers is the wild number of carcinogenic chemicals that are added to cigarettes, not the nicotine (which has never been shown to be carcinogenic itself). Before making negative comments about something, at least research what it is you're actually fighting against.
Beware! Don't Get Hooked by Nicotine!
written by Chris Kenney, April 03, 2014


The biggest danger of e-cigarettes is that they make it easier for people, especially the young, to play around with using an extremely addictive drug. Of course no future addict expects it to happen to them, but few non-users realize how quickly and completely they can become hooked. Nicotine is often more addictive and difficult to quit than heroin; that's why it spread all over the world. The main gratification of using becomes getting relief from the withdrawal symptoms that occur many times every day. E-cigarettes may have a place as a kind of Methadone, but the vast majority of nicotine addicts, when they are truly honest, wish they had never gotten involved with this junk.
I support Ecigs!
written by Bobby Stanton, April 02, 2014
I quit smoking cigarettes a year ago thanks to ecigarettes. and when I mean by ecigarettes, I mean mods! The big ones are what really satisfies your cravings and have never turned back. Now I can breathe better and don't stink up the house. Bravo for Beyond Vape for leading the pack. I went to their Santa Cruz store and it really opened me up to what "vaping" is all about. I have a cousin who works for the FDA and they are trying to find problems with these ecig juice and guess what?! they can't find a problem so far! They are trying but can't figure out anything bad lol!
...
written by Eve, April 02, 2014
Thanks for the article. thumbs up to cigarette alternatives!

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