E-cigarettes finding a North Jersey fan base in ex-tobacco users
As New Jersey mulls an e-cigarette tax and the medical community continues to stress the unknown health implications of so-called electronic vaping devices like e-cigarettes, a passionate community is growing in North Jersey – it’s a group of advocates largely made up of former smokers who say they quit traditional tobacco cigarettes when they started vaping.
“This completely changed my life,” said 28-year-old Adam Jankowski of Garfield, who credits vaping for quitting his six-year cigarette habit in a week last spring.
Tim Condron of Woodland Park smoked for 40 years and tried different cessation products without success. Last summer he picked up an e-cigarette just to see what it was like. Soon, the pack-a-day guy was down to a few traditional cigarettes a day. Within six months, he was done completely.
Gary Remert, who smoked for 30 years, said e-cigarettes were “the only thing on the market” that worked for him and his wife in their many attempts to quit. He estimates they now save more than $600 a month not buying cigarettes.
Joe Vilagos, who works at Flash Vapor in Little Falls where Condron and Remert are customers, started smoking when he was 10 years old and built to a four-pack-a-day habit. He started vaping about five years ago to “smoke” in the places he wasn’t allowed to use conventional cigarettes. A few months later, he had stopped smoking completely. Now, he says, he goes to the gym and can run around with his daughter without losing his breath – something he said would have been impossible before.
All of these vaping North Jersey residents and customers believe in the safety of the product. At the very least, they believe their new habit is less harmful than their old one – and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seems to back that up.
A February press release from the CDC said, “Although e-cigarettes appear to have far fewer of the toxins found in smoke compared to traditional cigarettes, the impact of e-cigarettes on long-term health must be studied.”
Millions of people aren’t waiting for those long-term studies to be done. There are more than 3.5 million e-cigarette users in the United States, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. E-cigarettes and their related vaping devices have become a big business with estimated U.S. sales between $1.5 billion and $2 billion last year, and the numbers continue to rise.
While e-cigarettes may seem like a new invention, it’s the phenomenon that is the recent occurrence. The first smokeless, non-tobacco cigarette was patented in the 1960s. The modern e-cigarette, however, wasn’t developed until 2003 by a pharmacist in China. The product came to the United States in 2007 and has gained in popularity the last couple of years.
When Shoaib Iqbal opened Good Guy Vapes in Paterson last May, he says he was the only store in North Jersey. The popularity and customer base caused him to quickly outgrow the small space. He then moved to the current Clifton location. Now he counts 10 dedicated vaping stores within 15 miles of him. E-cigarettes, e-juice and other products can be purchased online, at drugstores, convenience and grocery stores, and large retailers like Walmart.
E-cigarettes don’t burn tobacco. Instead, a battery heats up liquid and turns it into a vapor. The e-juice comes in flavors like Peach Tea, Crème de la Crepe, PB&J, Hawaiian Punch, Mango, Pina Colada, Hot Cocoa and Banana Nut Bread, and can be had with varying percentages of nicotine or no nicotine at all.
Those who take up vaping often find themselves becoming hobbyists. They meet at the stores, try different flavors of e-juice and check out the latest accessories and different models.
Those who begin with the basic e-cigarette often graduate to personal atomizers, which they can customize and build the coil portion. They become advocates, as well, advising their smoker friends and preaching the positive attributes of the products.
“There are very few people who have quit who have not become evangelical about e-cigarettes,” said Iqbal.
Jankowski and other customers followed Iqbal from Paterson to Clifton and remained regulars. The employees tirelessly answer questions and share the passion for vaping. They not only know the regulars’ names and favorite flavors, but often their smoking backstory.
Local stores have become like social clubs. Dan Villanueva, a store manager at Flash Vapor, said their store couches have become a place for former smokers to support one another similar to an AA meeting. They also discuss the latest in accessories, flavors and technology of their new, healthier (they hope) habit.
Villanueva said the groups of customers, which are at their biggest on Friday and Saturday nights, end up making his job very easy. When traditional smokers come through the door, they are greeted by people who want to offer their testimony, tell them how to stop smoking.
“It’s these people’s experience from quitting that actually sells,” he said.
Condron said he brought his e-cigarette to his doctor to ask what she thought and was told she was all for it if it helped him quit smoking. Not all experts agree it’s the best approach for those trying to quit, however.
“My message to patients is that the devices aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration and that, in fact, we do have seven FDA-approved medicines that do help people quit,” said Donna Richardson, clinical coordinator of the tobacco dependence program at Rutgers and an instructor at Rutgers School of Public Health. “If you are interested in quitting, please consider these. I will say also that we have a stop-smoking group at the cancer institute, many people who come to our group, use the electronic cigarette along with other medicines that we recommend.”