VapeLife in NEPA

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First Posted: 1/6/2015

Smoking cigarettes just isn’t cool anymore according to Nick Thompson, co-owner of Vape Boss in Scranton.

“Back in the days when James Dean would roll up a pack of smokes in his sleeve and have a cigarette hanging from his mouth, it was the cool thing to do. Everyone smoked. Today, it’s known to be a very unhealthy habit and it’s pretty much not socially acceptable anymore,” said Thompson, who recalled feeling publicly shamed when he used to smoke cigarettes.

“People would give me weird looks, almost as if they were disappointed or even disgusted,” Thompson said.

The area business owner eventually switched to vaping, an act of inhaling water vapor through a personal vaporizer or electronic cigarette which claims to be a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. Johnson is on a mission to help other smokers in Northeastern Pennsylvania make the change as well.

“The basic idea behind opening Vape Boss was to help people quit smoking,” said Johnson, who was first introduced to the smoking alternative when his sister worked at a vape shop in Florida.

“My mother smoked cigarettes for 35 years when my sister first hooked her up with a vaporizer. As soon as she picked up the vaporizer, she quit. My sister also quit with the help of vaping and so did both of my brothers,” Thompson said.

After quitting smoking, Thompson and his family struggled to find e-liquid (the flavored nicotine liquid that is vaporized) in the area, which lead to the idea of opening a store that could supply the product.

Johnson opened Vape Boss in January, 2014. One year later, his business is thriving and so is the popularity of vaping.

All about the vape

It’s a cold day – a really cold day. Inside Vape Boss, however, it is warm. The temperature isn’t the only element heating up the room, though – so is the hype.

Friends Robert Loschen and Jason Harte, both from Scranton, enter the store to try vaping for the first time at the testing bar, where those curious about the phenomena behind vaping can learn how to use a vaporizer, how to fill it and the general maintenance of the product – while choosing from the 107 different flavors, including Starburst, Belgium waffle and unicorn milk.

“I go to Lackawanna College and all of my friends vape. I see everyone walking around campus with their vape pens, so I wanted to try it out, and I’m glad I did because it tastes mad good,” Loschen said.

Meanwhile, Harte tagged along with his friend with hope that the vape could help him quit smoking.

“I’ve been smoking since I was 14. I’m 23 now, so it’s been nine years. I want to quit smoking, though. I want to live longer,” Harte said.

Eventually, Rose Logan of Dickson City walked in.

Logan smoked a pack of cigarettes almost every day for 45 years before she started vaping.

“I tried quitting two or three times over the years. I’d be off cigarettes for a couple months and I would always get that urge to go back. Since I started vaping a little over a year ago – Dec. 31, 2013, to be exact – I haven’t felt that urge,” said Logan, who credits vaping for her increased appetite, the ability to taste food better and no longer coughing-up black mucus.

“I thought Vape Boss would only appeal to the 18-35 crowd, but I have been pleasantly surprised,” said Johnson of his clientele, which he said ranges from college students to doctors and lawyers.

“I even have 80-year-old ladies coming in,” Johnson said.

In his opinion, the widespread following, and fascination in general, with vaping comes from the freedom it gives smokers to escape the stigma of being ostracized by people who are against cigarettes while having the opportunity to live a healthier life.

“I know the products that I sell have health risks. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t really say what they are exactly. I know the nicotine constricts your blood cells, but I strongly feel that it is a healthier alternative than smoking a cigarette because there is no tar, no carcinogens, it’s water vapor. Most people want to quit smoking, and vaporizers give them something with less chemicals to get that smoking sensation when quitting smoking altogether is too difficult for them, which is why, despite the risks of nicotine, people are all about it,” Thompson said.

When the smoke clears

Let’s say you made the switch from smoking cigarettes to vaping.

You have yourself a nice starter kit and you’re enjoying the variety of flavors as opposed to the taste of a cigarette. Your clothes stop smelling. You stop smelling. Your taste comes back. You may even find it is easier for you to breathe.

Once the smoke clears, however, are you actually practicing a healthier habit? According to Anthony Delonti of the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania and Dr. Terrence Lenahan, Board Certified Pulmonary Medicine Specialist, the answer is “no.”

According to Delonti, vape users are not aware of all the chemicals in their vaporizers, and there is no law that forces the manufacturers to list them.

“Vaporizers are not FDA approved, so there is no rule to comply with stating that you have to list all of the ingredients and manufacturers are not liable for only disclosing partial information,” Delonti explained.

When Vape Boss co-owner Nick Thompson was asked what is inside a vaporizer, he said: “A vaporizer is composed of vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavoring and in most cases, but not all, nicotine.”

Delonti, on the other hand, claims research has found chemical traces of formaldehyde, lead and nickel to name a few.

“Just because you can’t see it and just because you can’t smell these particulates that go into your lungs, doesn’t mean they aren’t causing more damage. Any particulates that are inhaled to the lung are not good for you. Also, these products are heated to a very high temperature. While the products are candy flavored, when you burn anything, it creates other chemicals just as cigarettes do when you burn them,” Delonti said.

The fact that vaporizer products are not approved by the FDA is the reason Lenahan said he would not suggest vaping to a patient who wants to quit smoking. But, he said he isn’t opposed to the possibility that vaporizers provide a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes.

“As a physician, it is silly to recommend anything that isn’t FDA approved. If vaping becomes FDA approved, however, and is proven that the components are no more toxic than cigarette smoke, then I would wholeheartedly recommend vaping to my patients as a smoking sensation aid because I don’t know if anything could be more toxic than cigarettes. However, as of 2015, there has not been a double-sided standardized clinical trial to suggest that it is a healthier alternative to cigarettes, so there’s no data to support it. If these vape manufacturers wanted to do this right, they would have made sure the product was approved by the FDA,” Lenahan said.

Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said he doesn’t want vape products to be approved by the FDA for the fear approval will do more damage to public health. According to Conley, the current regulations set in place will force 99 percent of vapor products to be removed from shelves in order to cater to present restrictions enforced by the FDA.

“There are so many products out there that if one doesn’t work for them, another might. Dramatically decreasing product variety will not hinder, not help, the FDA’s goal of reducing tobacco-related disease and death, ” Conley said.

In December, the American Heart Association released a study that found vaping more effective than FDA-approved products, which Conley said, shows a need for reasonable regulation.

“We continue to call on the House and Senate leadership to introduce a bill in 2015 that will alter the FDA’s authority over vapor products,” Conley said.

It’s easy to quit smoking

Non-smokers may be wondering why smokers would take the risk of inhaling something that hasn’t been proven to be a healthier alternative. You may even wonder why people who want to feel better and live longer don’t just quit smoking. According to Lenahan, who has been dealing with smokers for 28 years, it’s not hard to quit smoking.

“It isn’t that hard to quit smoking. It isn’t,” Lenahan said.

There’s no question that there is a physiological addiction, said the pulmonary specialist, but it is more of a psychological addiction.

“It takes 48 hours to get nicotine out of your system. That’s the physiological side to it,” said Lenahan, who suggested that if people are willing to “suffer it out”, they can quit smoking.

The doctor who boldly stated that it isn’t hard to quit smoking offered four suggestions to help people quit smoking altogether.

“My first recommendation, in order, is, if you can, to quit cold turkey. Stop smoking. Get rid of all your smoking supplements. Suffer the 48 hours, because you will suffer. Second, use nicotine gum or nicotine lozenges to take the nicotine use down. Third, nicotine patches. Fourth, I would recommend nicotine inhalers, which are FDA approved,” Lenahan said.

What it comes down to, as of now

At the end of the day, the data isn’t there to claim vapor products to be any less or more damaging than cigarette smoking and the popularity of vaping doesn’t seem to be effected.

While Delonti of the American Lung Association wants people to remember that history has only proven the inhalation of the known chemicals in vape products to increase the risks of cancer, others aren’t exactly trusting the studies, such as Jonathan Smith of Plains, a manager at Xhale Vapor Lounge in Wilkes-Barre.

“I think it’s very possible that both sides could be spinning the research. It depends on who is paying the researchers,” Smith said.

According Smith, he can only base his opinion on how he feels.

“I try to steer clear of telling my customers that vapor products are a healthier alternative. I’m not a doctor. I can’t make those claims on a scientific basis. I can only tell them how I feel when I vape. Now that I don’t smoke and I vape, I don’t wake up and feel like shit. I feel a hundred times better. I don’t smell anymore,” Smith said.

The topic of vaping brings out passion in a lot of people; both for and against it, both presenting valid arguments. No matter what side you are on the issue, perhaps Bob Marley said it best: “Who are you to judge the life I live? I am not perfect and I don’t have to be. Before you start pointing your fingers, make sure your hands are clean.”