Since 2003, e-cigarettes and vaporizers have grown from a small group of users to a global market worth more than $1.8 billion in 2013, according to figures provided by Wells Fargo tobacco analyst Bonnie Herzog.
The rapid rise of e-cigarettes and vaping has led to a burgeoning market both online and on the ground, as some entrepreneurs open stores exclusively for vaping and e-cigarettes. There are two such store in Midland: Tall City Vapor Works and the Vape Shack.
Tall City Vapor Works was started by Brian Evans in response to demand for his custom e-liquid, which is the only liquid he sells at his four stores. Vape Shack also produces some of the e-liquid it sells. Owner Melvin Herron opened a store here because customers were driving from Midland to his Odessa store.
Both stores use similar core ingredients in their e-liquids: propylene glycol, or vegetable glycerin, nicotine and flavoring. Propylene glycol is used in food processing as a preservative and is generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Vegetable glycerin is also used as a preservative in products like frostings.
The two stores have opened at a time when the e-cigarette and vaping community have faced increased scrutiny by local governments and communities, even global organizations, such as the United Nation’s World Health Organization, which in August released a statement calling for tougher regulations and reduced advertising for e-liquid and vaping and citing concerns that big tobacco companies were getting involved.
The European Union voted overwhelmingly February on legislation meant to tighten restrictions on e-cigarettes, including a ban on advertising and modest health warnings on packaging. The FDA followed in April with proposals to limit samples of e-cigarettes and increase regulation and reviews of e-cigarettes and vaporizer technology. It has yet to take any firm measures.
Herron and Evans agree there should be regulations on who should be able to access e-cigarettes and what ingredients should be used for e-liquids, two core issues with opponents of the industry.
“Nobody should be allowed to sell anything vape-related to anybody under the age of 18,” Herron said. “As far as we don’t know the health risks — we know it’s healthier than cigarettes — but we can’t say to what degree. I won’t say that vaping is perfectly healthy for you. I think that if God meant us to inhale vapor, then the air would be made out of vapor.”
But Herron, who smoked tobacco cigarettes for more than 30 years, believes that e-cigarettes and vaping are a better alternative to traditional cigarettes.
“Do I think it’s healthier than cigarettes? I know it’s healthier than cigarettes, because I’m living proof,” Herron said. “I feel better, I breath better, I can work on my feet longer, I don’t run out of breath as fast. I can feel it. I have 70-, 80-year-old customers who have tried everything in the world to get away from cigarettes, and they started vaping, and they immediately stopped smoking. What does that tell you?”
Several studies have also reinforced some of the vaping community’s claims. A study by Dr. Igor Burstyn of Drexel University’s School of Public Health concluded that “there was no evidence of potential for exposures of e-cigarettes users to contaminants that are associated with risk to health at a level that would warrant attention.”
Evans and Herron said their mixing stations are rated at kitchen-grade cleanliness and are controlled environments and Evans was vehement about his support for regulation of companies, such his own, that mix their own e-liquids.
“Anybody in the vaping community that tells you it shouldn’t be (regulated) doesn’t need to be in the vaping community,” Evans said. “There are guys out there who are making e-liquid in their garage in unsanitary situations and are selling it online, and you don’t really know what you’re getting. And people are getting sick from it. Those guys need to be shut down. Bottom line. They have no concern about the health risks of what they’re doing.”
While the manufacturing of e-liquid is one concern, another has been the second-hand effects of vaping. With no official government policy regulating e-cigarettes and vaporizers — and their use in public places — businesses, campuses and communities throughout the country have tried to come to grips with how to enforce current smoking bans that pertain to traditional cigarettes.
For restaurants in the Midland-Odessa area, the regulation of e-cigarettes and vaporizers is made on a case-by-case basis by individual businesses, according to Robert Barnes, the president of the Permian Basin Restaurant Association, which represents more than 200 local restaurants.
“So far, it’s such an unknown, and I think everybody is really challenged by it because it’s become a bigger deal,” Barnes said. “To be honest with you, it hasn’t been a big issue. I think a lot of restaurants just have a policy where they don’t allow it.”
With the jury is still out on the effects of e-cigarettes and vaporizers on non-users, Barnes said restaurants are caught in a catch-22 situation where they don’t want to offend either the vapers or the non-vapers.
“We’re just waiting to see what happens, what other people are doing, what other places are doing, what the government does if they step in and make a decision and what comes out from all the research that they’re doing on it,” Barnes said.
Some businesses and institutions in Midland already have decided to take action and implement their own rules. Midland College has had smoking restrictions in place for 20 years — smoking is limited to designated smoking areas (DSAs). The policy recently was expanded to include e-cigarettes, and the transition has gone smoothly, according to Rebecca Bell, dean of community relations and special events.
“(E-cigarette use) was noticed, and in order to make it a more comfortable environment for all of our students we included (e-cigarettes) within our original policy,” Bell said. “Everyone is now going to the DSAs, and we’ve had no complaints.”
On the other side of the coin, Cigar Frog’s Piano Lounge, which allows patrons to smoke cigarettes and cigars indoors, also allows vaping.
“You can have them, we don’t care. We just don’t prefer to sell them,” said Kaitlin Craft, the lounge’s manager.
Craft, who doesn’t smoke any tobacco products, said that being able to smoke is an individual’s business. But she can understand why other places wouldn’t want people to smoke.
“I could see where businesses would (ban e-cigarettes). Nobody wants to smell fruit loops coming out of your e-cigarette all the time. It’s kinda annoying. No one wants to smell your cigar smoke or cigarette smoke all the time,” Craft said.
Herron believes each business should set its own policy.
“If it makes your customers uncomfortable to have people vaping in your business, then go up to somebody and let them know or post a sign saying we don’t allow vaping in here,” Herron said. “You don’t have to give a reason. If someone doesn’t respect that, that’s on them. If somebody wants to go in there vaping when somebody doesn’t want them to, that’s disrespectful, in my opinion.”