‘Vaping’ Entrepreneurs Find A Place In A $3-Billion A Year Industry

By Gregory Smith
The Providence Journal, R.I.

To Rebecca Boff, electronic cigarettes are a life-saver.

Boff, 40, a former Rhode Island state social worker, is the proprietor of Ocean State Vapes, at 219 Putnam Pike, Johnston. She sells e-cigarettes and supplies and welcomes their users to grab a seat and “vape” in her store.

Puffing on an e-cigarette — or vaping — is meant to be a way to quit smoking tobacco and to reduce or eliminate the inhalation of nicotine and other harmful particles and substances in tobacco.

And Boff is a believer.

She suffered from bleeding ulcers that were aggravated by her habitual smoking, and one day, she recalled, “I almost bled out in my house.”

Desperate, she turned to vaping, and after 1 1/2 years, managed to quit smoking.

“I smoked for 25 years,” she recalled. “Vaping literally saved my life. I was so addicted, I would have kept smoking.”

An e-cigarette, generally speaking, is a handheld battery-powered nicotine delivery system. It heats a liquid and turns it into a colorless, odorless vapor without combustion.

Vaping is the inhalation of the vaporized liquid. The cloud produced is water vapor, which advocates contend is relatively innocuous compared with the contents of tobacco smoke.

Boff is in the vanguard of the e-cigarette boom, which is now an estimated $3-billion-a-year industry that has become a business and cultural phenomenon a half century after the U.S. surgeon general made history when he reported that smoking tobacco causes illness and death and he recommended that the government do something about it.

The Oxford Dictionaries in 2014 pronounced “vape” its word of the year.

An example of the phenomenon was the grand opening Saturday of VAPEsolutely!, an e-cigarette store at 1310 Ten Rod Rd., in the Super Stop & Shop plaza, North Kingstown.

Ocean State Vapes and VAPEsolutely! are among a number of vaping shops — vaporiums, if you will — that have popped up around the state.

They include, among others, Sunshine Vape in Warwick, Vaporetti in Pawtucket, E-Cig Shed in Barrington and The Vapor Lounge in downtown Providence.

“We’re not going to call this healthy,” VAPEsolutely! owner Bill Pizzuti said of vaping. “It’s healthier than smoking.”

Vaporiums have joined hookah bars and a medical marijuana smoking lounge in downtown Providence as the newest venues for alternatives to traditional American smoking. Smoking tobacco in cigars, pipes and cigarettes is forbidden in Rhode Island bars and restaurants except in recognized smoking lounges.

“It’s a very controversial industry right now,” Pizzuti said of e-cigarettes. The industry has fought tobacco companies on the one hand and anti-tobacco activists on the other. Many anti-tobacco activists lump vaping in with tobacco smoking as a harmful practice.

The news has been mixed of late. In December, the American Heart Association declared vaping to be an effective way to quit smoking. The concept is that a smoker can taper off by vaping liquid containing progressively less and less nicotine.

Fear of fire from lithium ion batteries in e-cigarettes, however, prompted the Federal Aviation Administration last week to warn commercial airlines about the risk of e-cigarette users packing their “vapes” in luggage destined for the cargo hold. The FAA recommended passengers carry them aboard.

And a study described in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that the vapor can contain a worrisome amount of formaldehyde — a known carcinogen.

National Public Radio reported that the e-cigarette industry association immediately dismissed the findings, saying that the measurements were made under unrealistic conditions.

Pizzuti, 44, of Exeter, is a former national sales manager for the manufacturer Astro-Med, who encountered e-cigarettes in the course of business. Eager to find an entrepreneurial and personal way to do something positive in his home area, he hit on e-cigarette sales.

His sleek and contemporary shop features dozens of e-hardware items and a lengthy bar that displays more than 100 different American-made vape liquids, also known as e-juice. A vaping aficionado can customize the liquid to be vaporized, by flavor and amount of nicotine.

The same goes for the vaporizing instruments, which can take a form as varied as a cigarette or a fancy oversized cigarette lighter with attached mouthpiece. They sell for $25 to $150.

With the industry has grown a hobby, as some people collect vaporizers the way men used to collect cigarette lighters, and others build their own heater coil/wick systems with parts bought at the shop that enable them to vary the way they vape.

Said Shawn Robbins, 35, of Cumberland, a customer of Ocean State Vapes, “I smoked for 18 years. I hate the smell of them now.”

“I quit cold turkey” from a habit that had him consuming 11/2 packs daily, he said. “Me and all my friends are vaping now.”

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