DANVILLE, Ill. (AP) — LaToya Johnson, a non-smoker, wandered into Vapors, curious about its electronic cigarettes.
After sampling some flavors, she was a convert and vowed to tell her smoker friends about the devices, which some people say helped them kick tobacco.
"This is nice. This is awesome," she said as she inhaled on one of the cigarettes. "I don't smoke, but I would do this." However, she added that she would want one of the non-nicotine "juices."
Johnson's enthusiasm for e-cigarettes was echoed by several other customers on a recent afternoon as they browsed or bought at Vapors, a new shop in Towne Centre.
The shop, which opened in March, specializes in the holders, flavored liquids, batteries and other items. Other businesses in town also sell e-cigarettes, including Tobacco Warehouse and B&J Music.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated nicotine-delivery devices that mimic the look and feel of smoking. The heater inside the unit vaporizes a liquid solution. At Vapors, the liquid contains four ingredients — nicotine, a flavor, vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol. The last two ingredients are used in food.
The user gets a puff of hot gas, which feels a lot like tobacco smoke. When he exhales, a cloud of vapor looks like smoke, but it's odorless and quickly dissipates.
The user chooses how much nicotine — if any — he wants in the e-cigarette. At Vapors, users may choose 24, 16 or 8 milligrams of nicotine. A non-nicotine liquid is available at the Champaign store, and is coming soon to Danville. The user also chooses a flavor, which is part of the liquid solution.
The devices come in all sizes and vary in their power, including how much vapor they produce, depending on the battery.
The Food and Drug Administration has said it intends to regulate e-cigarettes as it does regular cigarettes, it has not yet done so. In Illinois and Indiana, there are no state laws except for the requirement that a person must be 18 or over to purchase e-cigarettes.
Some cities, such as Chicago, have expanded their tobacco regulations to include e-cigarettes. Both Danville Area Community College and Presence United Samaritans Medical Center have tobacco-free policies that include a ban on electronic cigarettes.
Also, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association don't condone e-cigarettes as a viable quit-smoking option.
Nonetheless, those who have embraced the e-cig trend say the devices have helped wean them away from tobacco cigarettes, which contain thousands of harmful ingredients, some of them carcinogenic.
Melissa Freeman, owner of Vapors stores in Danville and Champaign, said most of her customers are trying to stop smoking — and they've had success with e-cigarettes. Her father, who smoked for 35 years, stopped after two months, with help from an e-cigarette.
She was a smoker for 15 years, but started "vaping" — the term used by e-cig users — about four years ago. With three children ranging in age from 2-12, she was concerned about exposing them to the harmful tobacco smoke, and was tired having to step outside every time she wanted a smoke.
People have a difficult time giving up smoking because it's incorporated into so many daily activities; for example, many smokers want a cigarette with a cup of coffee. That hand-to-mouth action is hard to give up, she said.
E-cigarettes give them the sensation of smoking and also deliver some nicotine, but at a lower risk.
A lot of her customers haven't had success with nicotine patches, gum and other methods, she said, adding, "If you can't quit, this is the greatest place to be."
With e-cigarettes, she said, "You feel so much better, you smell better. You don't realize how (tobacco) cigarettes are affecting you on a day-to-day basis."
Freeman also said she's careful about where she gets her ingredients for the liquid solution in the e-cigarettes, also called juice. She buys the nicotine from a pharmaceutical company, and uses only USDA-grade vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol.
"You don't know what you're getting otherwise," she said. Consumers need to make sure they buy e-cigarette solutions only at legitimate places and to avoid Chinese-produced juices.
In response to critics who question the ingredients in the liquids and who say nicotine is harmful in any form, she said, "I realize it's not 100 percent good for you, but I know it's better than cigarettes."
Most of Vapors' customers are trying to quit smoking, and her customers represent all ages; most are 30 and older who are trying to quit for their children's sake.
Some customers want to take up vaping just for fun or as a hobby, but Freeman said she does not encourage people to do that. "Don't put yourself through it if you don't have to," she said, referring to the use of nicotine.
Freeman also said her business checks the ages of customers who appear to be under 18.
Joshua Pilatz of Kingman, Ind., is one of those customers who has never smoked, but took up vaping nine months ago.
"I do it just for fun," he said, adding that his motto is "Keep calm and vape on."
Pilatz, 23, also makes his own coils, which heat the liquid, and flavors; his favorites are gummy bears and menthol. He orders his ingredients online.
Randy McDuffee and Mary McQueen of Danville were scouting out the merchandise last week, hoping to kick their smoking habit so they wouldn't get out of breath when playing with their 1-year-old daughter.
"This is a way I can knock it down," McDuffee said.
He and McQueen tried several flavors using disposable mouthpieces attached to the e-cig body while trying to decide. Vapors offers more than 80 flavors, including Red Hots, coffee with cream, Snickers, Irish cream, clove, banana Foster, pineapple, Skittles, vanilla tobacco, chocolate mint and cinnamon roll.
"It's so weird the way it literally, actually tastes the way it's supposed to," he said, while sampling a flavor.
Andy Beck, 27, of Danville smoked for nine years before quitting in October.
He told McDuffee, "You'll feel better. You can feel it in your lungs." It takes three or four days before a new e-cig user will see a difference, he said, adding, "You're not hacking every morning."
Beck said he especially likes not smelling like smoke anymore. He feels so much better and can breathe better, he said, and he doesn't crave cigarettes.
In fact, he doesn't even like the smell of smoke anymore, and won't use any of the flavors that taste like cigarettes.
He has done a lot of research, he said, adding, "It's way better for you."
Hayley Cooprider of Westville, who's been smoking since 16, said she's noticed several benefits since starting e-cigarettes last summer. It takes a while to get used to the new system, she said, and your lungs might be agitated at first.
But, she noticed her skin complexion has improved since she stopped putting poisonous chemicals into her body.
One reason she switched is that she's applying to the nursing program at DACC, and wanted to take some steps to good health.
Her advice to new e-cig users: Switch over cold turkey. Don't try to vape and smoke at the same time.
"It is a little bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it, it's a very promising reward at the end," she said.
She and others said they haven't had a problem using e-cigarettes in public places. Allowing or banning the devices is up to each restaurant or business at this point.
'On your way'
Jessica Young, manager of the Danville Vapors, asks new customers: "Are you looking to switch over? You've come to the right place."
To a new customer, she explained that he first would choose a battery, which comes in different sizes. A higher-voltage battery gives more "umph." The batteries need to be recharged at night (although the bigger ones last longer).
Some devices have coils that need to be replaced periodically; cost is $5. Or some devices have a disposable top part, which lasts about a month.
The devices come in a variety of colors.
After making a sale, she said to the customer, "You're on your way to throwing cigarettes away."
Online: (Danville) Commercial-News, http://bit.ly/1qfh9Qq
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