E cigarettes gaining steam among former smokers

June 9, 2013
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Rick Shrum / Observer-Reporter
Alex Lipput, manager of Diversity’s Washington store, is a longtime smoker who switched to E cigarettes. Order a Print
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Rick Shrum/Observer-Reporter
Diversity in Washington also has a variety of Felix the Cat products. Order a Print

When it comes to cigarette consumption, Buddy Hall refuses to blow smoke.

“Hell yeah,” he said. “I was a smoker for 35 years.”

Hall wanted to quit, and in his mind, has. About eight months ago, he switched from conventional to electronic cigarettes – a.k.a. E cigarettes, a growing alternative that, Hall and other advocates staunchly maintain, is healthier, cheaper and less intrusive to neighboring nonsmokers.

Wikipedia defines an E cigarette as “an electronic inhaler that vaporizes a liquid solution into an aerosol mist, simulating the act of smoking.”

Many, but not all, E cigarettes are like the ones sold at Diversity. They have three parts: a cartridge, which holds liquid containing 18 milligrams of nicotine, the equivalent to one cigarette; an atomizer that heats up the liquid, creating a vapor; and a battery that powers the atomizer.

A number of local smokers and reformed smokers are patronizing two stores where it is the featured item.

Hall and his wife, Michelle, own Diversity, a small shop in Dormont and an even smaller shop that opened a month ago on East Beau Street in Washington. Buddy Hall said E cigarettes are the dominant seller in each store, where T-shirts, Himalayan salt lamps, candles and Felix the Cat items are among the merchandise.

A longtime record producer for local bands, with a studio in his Dormont home, Hall wanted to get into something different last year. The Halls decided to open a store and were in concert on what they would primarily market: E cigarettes from the company Totally Wicked.

“This may sound corny, but we think we are doing a really good thing,” Buddy Hall said. “I’m not so much thinking of making money as wanting to save lives.

“The day I started with electronic cigarettes, that was it. I would not consider (an actual) cigarette today. People (who use them) still have an addiction to nicotine, but they’re not putting themselves at risk for cancer and other stuff.”

Hall said E cigarettes pose no second-hand smoke risks and shouldn’t annoy nonusers because “you’re not burning anything.”

They also are more cost effective, he said. Hall estimated that he spent $230 to $240 a month” on tobacco cigarettes, but is paying about $40 per month for the E brand.

Alex Lipput, manager of the Washington shop, likewise made the transition to E cigarettes and praises their virtues.

“Smoke is the biggest thing because you can smell it when someone is smoking. In fact, the smell of cigarettes is atrocious to me now. You can’t smell this.”

If anything, he said, the nonuser will likely pick up a pleasant – and not overwhelming – aroma. Nicotine on the shelves at Diversity comes in 50 flavors such as caramel, blueberry pineapple and cherry.

“We say that we are vaping because we are no longer smoking,” said Lipput, of Bethel Park. “You get the same throat sensations as cigarettes, but the taste is different.”

Lipput smoked for eight years before sampling an E cigarette three years ago and hasn’t switched back. He said his health improved quickly after the change, that he no longer was winded after ascending a stairway and that a persistent cough disappeared.

The Food and Drug Administration, however, questions the apparent health benefits. It reported in April that E cigarettes did not necessarily direct smokers toward quitting and their presence, partly because of the flavors, could appeal to children. The World Health Organization also expressed doubt that the product would dissuade current smokers.

Hall is quick to point out that the tobacco industry is lucrative, reeling in about $35 billion in profits per year, powerful and influential.

“If the FDA did tests,” Hall said, “they’d find out (E cigarettes are) not killing anyone.”

They may be impacting tobacco interests. In March, research analysts at Morgan Stanley, a global financial services firm, reported that sales of tobacco cigarettes had dropped 4.5 percent from projections for 2013.

On Thursday, tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds announced it would start marketing a “digital vapor cigarette” called Vuse in Colorado on July 1, with expansion elsewhere in the nation planned for later.

Blu, another E cigarette brand, is popular and available in area stores.

Diversity’s expansion to Washington, Hall said, was a byproduct of supplier and demand.

“A lot of people from the Washington area were coming into our store in Dormont and saying they wished we had a store down there,” he said, speaking from his South Hills location. “There also was a guy who was buying (E cigarette items) here and selling them for more there.”

Lipput now is doing the selling from a small shop at the entrance of the Washington Trust Co. building, which opened May 1. He said E cigarette items account for “80 to 90 percent of our business.”

Hours at the shop are noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Lipput is there Monday through Thursday, with either Buddy or Michelle Hall there on the other days.

The three believe E cigarettes are a smokin’ idea.

“I wouldn’t be selling this product,” Lipput said, “if I didn’t believe in it.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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