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They’re not smoking-cessation devices, Josh Bartlett is quick to say about flavored, battery-powered inhalation atomizers—electronic cigarettes—sold at his Shallotte shop, Tasty Vapers.
The proprietor of the one-and-a-half-year-old shop on Village Road wouldn’t make such a claim, and the Food and Drug Administration wouldn’t allow it.
But customers flowing into his shop one recent afternoon said lately they’ve been doing more vaping than cigarette smoking.
“It is an enjoyable and affordable alternative to smoking,” Bartlett said, adding it’s an “up-and-down business, but the popularity of e-cigarettes is growing.”
Supply resident Brenda Neely and her son Robert, 26, stopped by Bartlett’s shop for a fresh fix of flavored liquids, also known as “juice,” that they use for inhalation in the atomizers.
Robert said he has been vaping for about a month. He said he bought a carton of cigarettes three-and-a-half weeks ago.
“I’m still on the same carton of cigarettes,” he said.
The two, along with Brenda’s husband, Charles Herring, have all been using products sold at Bartlett’s shop.
Brenda said she’s using vanilla, berry-berry and pina colada flavors and hasn’t smoked cigarettes since.
“I was a social smoker anyway,” she said. “I didn’t do it every day. I haven’t touched [cigarettes]. It did the trick for me.”
She said the only reason she smoked is because they do karaoke at the Moose Lodge.
“When you’re there having a good time, you feel like smoking a cigarette,” she said. “That’s when I use [my atomizer]. It’s something you can smoke and feel satisfied in places that won’t let you smoke [cigarettes].”
They’ve been out and about to public places that don’t mind the use of atomizers, she said, “as long as it’s not tobacco.”
Her husband has been vaping using a stronger-tasting “triple black” cherry flavor akin to the taste of pipe tobacco.
“That’s his favorite,” Brenda said, adding Herring has cut down his smoking.
“I mean, he’s doing better all the time,” she said, adding atomizers don’t have an odor to “get on you or anybody else. You don’t have to worry about an ashtray, lighter or nothing, and that’s nice.”
“Save a whole lot of money”
Customers say it costs slightly less than $50 to get started with a flavored atomizer kit, which they say offsets the cost of cigarettes.
“I haven’t had a regular cigarette since October,” said another Supply resident, Leigh Boelke, stopping by Tasty Vapers for a refill.
Boelke said she started out using 24 mg of menthol-flavored liquid and has since cut down to 11 mg.
“I save a whole lot of money,” she said. “A bottle of juice lasts a week.”
She said that equals the carton of Newports she used to smoke.
Jennifer Trull of Brick Landing sought Bartlett’s assistance with technical difficulties she was having with her own atomizer, which she’s been flavoring with Turkish and watermelon varieties.
“I haven’t had a cigarette in a month,” Trull said. “I lit one the other day, and it tasted so nasty. I thought I was going to throw up.”
Bartlett’s shop offers more than 50 flavors of atomizer liquids and is expanding every month, he said.
Two Shallotte shops
Atomizers and more than 80 flavored e-liquids are sold at Absolute Vapors, another shop with locations in East Point Shopping Center at 150 Holden Beach Road, Shallotte as well as in Southport and Leland.
Owner Nick Hoff said business has been good since he and his parents opened their Shallotte shop in January.
“It’s a healthier alternative to smoking,” Hoff said.
Customers buying atomizers have to be at least 18 years old, Bartlett said.
They’re allowed to use them just about everywhere, except at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, Hoff said.
Warnings state e-liquids “may contain nicotine, a poisonous and addictive substance and is only intended for those of legal smoking age.”
They are also not intended for use by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, children, or people at risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma “or any other medical condition that can be aggravated by the use of nicotine.”
The jury’s also still out about long-term use of electronic cigarettes, e-liquids and accessories as no clinical studies have been conducted.
Bartlett, himself a reformed smoker who regularly vapes, also doesn’t recommend use of the devices by anyone who has totally stopped smoking.
Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email email@example.com.