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5:04 AM Wed, Nov. 21st

E-cigs gain strong local popularity

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br>
Tony Oliver tries out a new flavor in his Zodiac e-cigarette at the J Vapes store on WIndsong Drive in Prescott Valley.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br> Tony Oliver tries out a new flavor in his Zodiac e-cigarette at the J Vapes store on WIndsong Drive in Prescott Valley.

There's no denying the popularity of electronic cigarettes. With more and more people wanting to kick the tobacco habit, the devices have become a step back from Camels or Marlboros.

It can create a marketing bonanza.

The J Vapes Prescott Valley location offers a special deal for cigarette smokers who want to quit. Those who drop their last pack of cigarettes into the 'Quit Pit' get a free batch of liquid nicotine when they purchase an e-cig starter kit. A number of cigarette packs lie abandoned inside the glass pit mounted on the wall. J Vapes, which also operates a store on Iron Springs Road in Prescott, opened their PV location three months ago. Davila, friends with J Vapes founders John Fisher and Jourdan Wheeler, is a former pack-a-day smoker. Now, with vaping, he hasn't smoked in two years.

"I can wake up in the morning and not cough up black stuff. I can run, hike and I feel better. I know it's working for me," Davila said.

He cautioned, however, that e-cigarettes wouldn't completely cure the addiction to cigarettes.

"To quit smoking with one of our e-cigarettes, there has to be will power. You have to want to quit smoking," Davila said.

These days the devices, which can look like silver pipes or like identical twins of old-fashioned tobacco cigarettes, are everywhere. Starter kits can be found at nearly every gas station for around $30. In 2013, a new Arizona law banned sales to minors under 18. But that hasn't stopped their popularity from soaring.

Sales of e-cigarettes continue to blossom, from approximately 50,000 in 2008 to over 3 million in 2012, according to reports from the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. In Prescott and Prescott Valley, sales are surging, ranging from starter kits to vials of flavored blends of liquid nicotine.

Zack Davila, manager of J Vapes in Prescott Valley, said he's seen ex-smokers and even non-smokers visit the store to try the products offered there. Vaping customers, he said, range in age from 18 to 80-years-old. The store also offers a small lounge area for people to hang out.

Electronic cigarettes, he said, have become something of a national subculture in recent years, similar to car and motorcycle subcultures.

"It's like a hobby. It's something people want to keep doing because it's fun and makes them feel like a part of a community," he said. "Smoking is looked down on. People don't want to be around it. It's not like that with vaping. There's a lot of camaraderie with it."

Daniel Lizarraga, manager of PicQuic Vapors on Montezuma Street in Prescott, said his year-old business specializes in electronic cigarettes, hookas and more. Like J Vapes, seating area is provided for e-cigarette smoking.

"The bulk of our business is people trying to get off of traditional tobacco and looking for alternative choices," Lizarraga said.

When he first started selling e-cigarettes, he often had to explain the process. Now customers come in seeking specific brands. The store sells approximately 100 different flavors of liquid nicotine as well.

The sense of community among e-cigarette users has led to a number of gatherings catering to vaping enthusiasts. Last month, J Vapes hosted a special "Vape Meet" in Prescott Valley.

"It's where a bunch of people get together and hang out and have competitions, like who can blow the biggest cloud. It's a lot bigger in Phoenix and California, but it's growing in Prescott and Prescott Valley," Davila said.

Healthy?

Questions regarding the long-term health effects of electronic cigarettes, however, are also growing. Those questions include the effects of nicotine vapor and the effects "second-hand vapor" may pose to those exposed to it. Other concerns include inadequate labeling, leaving many to speculate about other chemicals or ingredients in the liquid nicotine, and the risk of nicotine addiction.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently regulate e-cigarettes, since the products do not contain tobacco. E-cigarettes, and related accessories, are not subject to American tobacco laws, and can currently be purchased via the Internet and without proof of age. Currently, however, the FDA is working to classify e-cigarettes as a drug delivery device so they can be regulated.

In Yavapai County, there are no regulations concerning the use of electronic cigarettes, said David McAtee, spokesman for Yavapai County Community Health Services.

"It's so new it has not been regulated yet," he said. "They're still looking at research and trying to determine what exactly is coming out of an e-cigarette, but I'm sure it's coming down the line."

Businesses, however, can choose whether to allow e-cigarette or not.

"We know you're not allowed to smoke within a certain number of feet of a restaurant and we have all these Smoke-Free Arizona signs up, but there really isn't anything on the books officially for e-cigarettes," McAtee said.

Despite possible health concerns, Lizarraga said most tobacco users balance that risk with the desire to quit.

"They're looking for an alternative to traditional tobacco smoking," he said. "There's a lot of misunderstanding about e-cigarettes. One of the things I like about it is you can pick the amount of nicotine you use. We have from zero to full strength and we have a lot of customers that have worked their way down to zero. They are no longer ingesting nicotine."

E-cigarette user Tony Oliver smoked for six years before switching to a Zodiac Mod electronic vaping device. He made the switch after befriending J Vapes employee Nick Verrocchi.

"I came in and dropped my cigarettes into that pit and never looked back," Oliver said. He hasn't smoked a real cigarette in five months and said his health is improving.

"I feel a thousand times better," Oliver said. "I highly doubt there are negative effects. It's just smoking companies saying bad words about it because they're losing money."