Smoke? Or just hot air?

Regional vapor shops here to stay

By Tim Walker

Photo: According to the CDC, the number of adults and teenagers who smoke cigarettes is Page steadily decreasing, while e-cigarette use is on the rise

Modern-day fad or not, “vaping” is going on everywhere you look these days.

In bars and restaurants, at the mall and at the ball game, people are sucking on little pen-like electronic devices and exhaling clouds of sweet-smelling water vapor into the warm summer air. You can’t drive down a street in Dayton, it seems, without passing a newly opened shop selling vaping supplies, and the non-vaping average man is left to wonder: what is this all about? Is it mass hysteria? Is all of this vaping safe, or, at the very least, is it safer than smoking? And is this new industry being regulated at all?

“I think a lot of people are looking for an alternative to traditional tobacco consumption, via combustion,” says Scott Eley, president of the Ohio Vapor Trade Association. He uses the technology himself and, with his partners, owns VaporCast, a chain of Ohio vaping retailers with five locations around the state.

“So I think a lot of the uptick in the popularity,” he continues, “has been that current cigarette smokers or cigar smokers can still use nicotine, and even gradually reduce the amount of nicotine they use, but do it in a way that still offers that same satisfaction and social interaction—but doesn’t have the 4,000 known carcinogens that exist in tobacco.”

“I think a lot of the reason it’s become so popular lately is due to the success rate,” says Tyler Riley, director of marketing for JoJo Vapes, a local business, also with five locations, that sells vaping supplies and equipment. “That’s due to my own personal experience. I worked in the store before I started doing marketing, and I’ve found that a lot of people have a lot more success with this versus the gum and the patches because it gives you more of the sensation of a cigarette.”

“So,” I ask Riley, “Do you see vaping as a means to an end, then? In other words, do most of your customers use this technology to quit smoking and then wean themselves off of nicotine?”

“Yes,” he responds. “Most of our customers are ex-smokers, or are trying to become ex-smokers. We’ve even seen people with diabetes, who can’t have sweets, that come in and get something that’s a little sweeter to help satisfy that craving, versus eating sweets and then having to take more insulin.”

What is vaping?

Vaping is the preferred industry term for what Eley and Riley and so many other people are doing these days: using a tiny portable electronic nicotine delivery system, an e-cigarette that doesn’t involve burning tobacco. The devices, which can retail anywhere from $15 or so and up, consist of a rechargeable battery, a reservoir to hold the fluid (which comes in various flavors and contains varying amounts of nicotine, according to the user’s preference), an electronic coil to heat the fluid, and a tip through which the user inhales the resulting vapor. Users press a button on the device that heats up the liquid, then they inhale the vapor much as a smoker would, ingesting the nicotine and exhaling a cloud of water vapor and other minor residues. As so many of the carcinogens in cigarettes are produced by the actual burning of the tobacco and other chemicals—many of them introduced into the cigarettes by the manufacturers—“vapers” are convinced their method is cleaner, healthier and doesn’t pollute the surrounding air with second-hand smoke.

Some medical professionals remain unconvinced, however.

“I just don’t think there have been enough studies for anyone to be sure at this point,” says Katherine H. Fox, NP, a certified family nurse practitioner from Huber Heights who works with Providence Medical Group. “I’m not saying they’re unsafe, and I’m not against them … I just think more research on the long-term effects needs to be done.”

A number of major cities has responded to the recent increase in use of vaping technology—and a lack of research detailing its long-term health effects—by banning it in public places, treating e-cigs and their users exactly as cigarettes and smokers are treated. Cities like San Diego, New York, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles have all enacted laws regulating the use of the devices in public places.

But why, if this technology is so much cleaner and safer, is there all this concern and legislation? If people can use these devices to wean themselves off nicotine and eventually stop smoking altogether, aren’t vaping devices a good thing for public health, and shouldn’t their use be encouraged?

Nicotine use

Make no mistake: Nicotine is a poison. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nicotine is a naturally occurring toxic chemical found in tobacco plants. At one time it was used as an insecticide and a fumigant, although it is no longer used in this manner in the United States. It affects the nervous system and the heart, and exposure to relatively small amounts can rapidly be fatal. Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddya, in a 1980 interview in Playboy magazine, explained how he could take a handful of cigars and from them extract one drop of pure nicotine which, if put in a cup of coffee, could kill a man.

Recreational tobacco use goes back to the pre-Columbian days. Native Americans, who first smoked it, believed that tobacco was a gift from the Creator, and that the smoke could carry the user’s thoughts and prayers up to heaven. After 1492, Europeans took tobacco back home with them from the Americas, and the recreational use of the plant spread rapidly there. Tobacco use then increased steadily into the mid-twentieth century, when doctors, led by a landmark British study published in 1941, began to link tobacco use to cancer and heart disease. According to the CDC, the percentage of U.S. adults who smoked was 17.8 percent in 2013, down from 20.9 percent in 2005, and the lowest rate of smoking since researchers began tracking this figure in 1965.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand it,” Tyler Riley says. “So they want to see it in a bad light. You know, obviously a lot of times in the media it’s portrayed as a negative thing, because you have your stories about kids getting into the e-liquid, etc. And that is a tragic thing, obviously. But to me, it’s kind of like bleach—the parents shouldn’t have had it out where the kids could reach it. Kind of like alcohol, same thing. I don’t leave my e-liquid just sitting around the house without a cap on it or anything.”

When asked about the various cities and new legislation designed to regulate vapers out of public spaces and back into the ghetto of the smoking area, Riley is noncommittal.

“I don’t personally have any problem with it,” he says. “The way I see it, if I wouldn’t smoke a cigarette in a place, then I wouldn’t vape in there without asking. There are some establishments here in Dayton that are vape-friendly, so they don’t mind you vaping in there. I always ask before I start vaping inside so it doesn’t really affect me that much. I know a lot of people just start vaping indoors without checking first, which might give people a bad impression, so I simply ask first.”

“I wasn’t a smoker before I began vaping,” Tyler concludes. “I chewed tobacco for years. And this technology enabled me to quit doing that. So I see all of this as being a very positive thing.”

Taxation threat

Along with the questions about long-term health effects, unwarranted negative stories in the press and threats of legislation from cities, the vaping industry in Ohio is also facing a new challenge from a not-altogether unexpected source—the Ohio Department of Taxation and the office of Governor John R. Kasich. As the industry has taken hold, spread and grown exponentially in recent years, the state of Ohio has quickly discovered a need for increased taxation of the devices and fluid.

Scott Eley, president of the Ohio Vapor Trade Association, when asked about the state of Ohio’s desire to begin levying heavy taxes on vaping fluids and delivery devices, is straightforward.

“We’ve been working to fight these taxes,” Eley says. “Ohio uses a two-year budget cycle, so what Governor Kasich is trying to do is reduce the state income tax by three or four percent. And he’s doing that to support his upcoming presidential run—he doesn’t hide that he’s interested in running for President of the United States, and he needs something to run on, so he wants to run on his income tax reduction. However, he’s not really reducing the income tax. When you pay your taxes on April 15, yes, that number will go down. All of that money is being side-shifted to other areas. So that would include increasing the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1 per pack, which would make the tax on a pack cost $2.25. He’s proposing taxing service industries, like lawyers, that aren’t normally taxed in the state of Ohio. Really, all he’s doing is shifting taxes, not reducing taxes at all.”

“Part of that,” Eley continues, “Is that he proposed bringing other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes, even though there’s no tobacco in them, equal to the current rate of cigarettes. So what he proposed was that 2 mL of the e-liquid would be equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. So that means that 2 mL of fluid would be taxed at $2.25. This would make a 30 mL bottle $33.75 just in state tax. A 30mL bottle sells, in most of the stores in Dayton, for between $17 and $25 for the bottle. So you’re talking about taking a product that your consumer can purchase for around $18 and putting an additional $33.75 just in tax on that amount.

“What this accomplishes is… nothing. Because those consumers are just going to turn to online sources for their product, or they’re going to go to one of the five states that border Ohio that don’t tax e-liquid to begin with. So his proposal has not found many supporters in the general assembly.”

Does Eley see the industry continuing to grow in popularity?

“Yes,” he says. “Up until three years ago electronic cigarettes were still considered very much a novelty item. I think that the more people use them, and switch over from cigarette smoking to electronic cigarette use, I think a lot of people are starting to see that these aren’t just a novelty or a toy. This is absolutely a viable alternative to cigarette smoking.”

With doctors worldwide in nearly universal agreement that quitting smoking—or not picking up the habit in the first place—is the one thing most people can do to have the greatest positive impact on their health, it seems clear that e-cigarettes and vaping technology may yet emerge as a revolutionary way for consumers to take control of a deadly habit.

­­Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at

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