PLATTSBURGH — Local vape shops say their products benefit one crowd: cigarette smokers looking for change.
New York State Vape Association Co-Founder and Board President Michael Frennier, co-owner of Plattsburgh-based MT Vapes with son Tyler, said he fought that battle first hand.
Frennier was once tied to cigarettes, smoking between three to five packs a day.
But in 2011, when he couldn't keep up with his two-year-old grandson, Frennier chose to puff on an e-cigarette instead.
"I tried it and never stopped," he said, adding that he'd noticed health improvements in those 8-plus years. "I'd probably be dead at the rate I was smoking.
"It was vaping that saved my life."
E-cigs, or electronic cigarettes, are battery-powered vapor devices often used as a channel for inhaling nicotine.
Plattsburgh Vape Co. Owner Earl Dahl, who also quit smoking via the method, said a basic starter kit costs about $25.
"After that, the devices can get pretty cosmetically pricing,” Dahl added, referencing price tags of about $60 to $90.
Then comes the “bottle of juice,” or nicotine-laced liquid, used to fill and refill the devices.
Though pre-filled pods exist, Dahl said the fillable models are more common at his Bridge Street storefront in the City of Plattsburgh.
Bottles of nicotine juice generally cost between $10 and $20, he said.
There are hundreds of vape brands, but some notable names include SMOK, Juul, Sigelei and Naked.
Dahl said the rechargeable devices have a heating element similar to that of an at-home humidifier.
“It heats the liquid up enough to bring it from the liquid state to the vapor state and then that’s what’s inhaled and exhaled," he said.
Nicotine levels vary from liquid to liquid.
Frennier said his shop at Plattsburgh Plaza stocks juice with as little as 0 mg/mL of nicotine to as much as 24 mg/mL.
According to Dahl, one pod of 24 mg/mL of nicotine vape juice has comparable nicotine to that of one pack of cigarettes.
Though there are exceptions, Frennier said, most vaping products naturally taper down nicotine levels.
Because of that, he added, a successful vape shop will run itself out of business.
“They’ll take the smoker, get them to switch over and, eventually, they’ll get to the point where they’re down to zero (nicotine) and quit," Frennier said.
Dahl, who has witnessed hundreds of success stories during his six years in the business, explained a similar sentiment.
"A lot of our users start off with medium-to high-nicotine levels,” Dahl said. “Then, generally, within three to six months, they're on the lowest nicotine level.
“Vaping is a way for people to either quit smoking or for people to switch to what is, in my opinion, a healthier habit."
E-cig manufacturers with "fun" flavors, like those modeled after desserts and fruits, have been accused of marketing vape products to underage users.
Dahl, who said his shop carried over 130 different flavors, had a different perspective.
They help to convert smokers, he said.
“Tobacco is our least selling flavor,” the shop owner added. “That’s because a lot of people don’t like the taste of tobacco.
"People want to taste what they enjoy.”
Frennier thought it naive to think young e-cig users have their sights on flavorings.
“Kids aren’t after the flavors," he said, "they’re after the nicotine high."
And, he said, corruption within large-scale industries, including notable pharmaceutical companies, had successfully given vaping a bad name.
"You have 40 million smokers," Frennier said of the nation's statistics. “500,000 of those people die every year from cigarette smoking."
Frennier compared that to 10 million vapors nationwide that have had connections to 200 cases of illness and five deaths.
"Everything is about getting vaping off of the market," he said. "They want to ban the product that has converted 10 million smokers and leave the product that's killing 500,000 people each year.
"Does that make sense?"
Dahl gave those statistics a local spin.
"There are a lot of vapers around Plattsburgh," he said, "but I think there's also about 10 times the amount of cigarette users, as well."
As of Wednesday, Nov. 13, New York's minimum age for all tobacco sales will be raised from 18 to 21.
Frennier, who said his shop scans IDs for all sales, expects a minimal drop in business.
“It’s going to have an effect on everybody’s vape shops," he said. "For us, 90 percent of our sales are over the age of 21, so it’s not going to be so significant."
Still, Frennier suspected nicotine addictions would point the young-adult users towards the black market.
"All they’re doing is preventing the sale," he said of the state law. "The use isn’t going to stop.”
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