Advocates of vapor cigarettes tout their benefits

Former smokers in the Waterville area say ‘They’re a million times better than tobacco.’

WATERVILLE — Steven Clark started smoking cigarettes at 18, but only in social situations when others would light up.

As time went on, however, he began smoking regularly and like many others became addicted.

Cigarettes aren’t cheap at $6 to $8 a pack. One day Clark, now 25, did the math. He figured he was spending about $100 a week— or about $4,800 a year — on the unhealthful, dirty habit.

Clark, of Winslow, vowed to kick the habit. He tried quitting cold turkey, chewing nicotine gum, even took prescribed medicine from his doctor, but nothing worked.

Then he stepped into Empire Vape Shop on Main Street and got set up with an electronic cigarette or “mod.” He tried different flavored vape juices such as strawberry-banana, experimented with intensity of flavor and decided to include nicotine as well with a plan to use it on a decreasing basis until he eliminates it altogether.

For the first time, he found a method for quitting smoking that really worked, he said.

“I went from smoking a pack-and-a-half a day to three cigarettes a day within 24 hours of vaping,” Clark said Sunday. “Tomorrow actually marks two weeks without a cigarette.”

He said he doesn’t smell like an ashtray anymore, has more money in his pocket — he spends between $12 and $24 a week on electronic cigarette ingredients — and feels a whole lot better.

“I have more energy, I sleep better, I’m able to smell better,” he said.

What has so far proved to be a godsend for Clark is stirring controversy among many people who think the ingredients in vapor cigarettes may be dangerous for people, including children who may pick up the hobby.

The federal government is considering regulating liquids used in vapor cigarettes. Maine officials are considering taxing them.

Clark is concerned about such proposals and says he will do anything in his power to prevent that from happening.

“To me, it’s the government’s way of saying, ‘Hey, let’s make money off this’ because it’s a growing industry. That’s just my personal opinion,” Clark said. “I think it’s our job as a community to properly educate people on how vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes.”

He purchases his vapor cigarette supplies at Empire Vape Shop at 251 Main St.

Shop owner Graham Vinson also is a former cigarette smoker who quit by using vapor cigarettes.

Like Clark, Vinson is convinced that vaping is a more healthful alternative to smoking cigarettes and helps wean people off nicotine.

Vinson has been in the industry about six years and worked for his competitor before opening his own shop Dec. 7, he said. He says he is conscientious, keeps up with the latest studies on ingredients for vapor cigarettes and does not use ingredients that have been deemed poor. He says the vaping industry in the U.S. has done a good job of regulating itself.

“We’re here because we know that cigarettes are killing people. We’ve known it for years,” Vinson, 36, said.

Unlike Clark, his patron, Vinson feels strongly that the vapor cigarette industry should be regulated to keep “shoddy manufacturers” out of the picture.

“I don’t know that I’m going to agree that it should be taxed,” he said. “Yes, by all means, regulate it so we don’t have to deal with shady producers. Regulations are coming. I’m personally all for it because I vape what I make. We make sure it’s very clean.”

Vinson and his fiancee, Stephanie Hawkins, a former case worker, are partners in the business and feel strongly that it is important to give back to the community, he said. They donated gifts, food, clothes and other items to a family through the Salvation Army at Christmas. They sponsored a dog at the local humane society by buying it special food and paying its adoption fee and veterinarian bills. The couple also are running a special drawing to benefit the local food pantry.

“I’m just trying to be a good business and be part of the community,” Vinson said.

Vinson said he is not going to claim that electronic cigarettes are an end-all — and perfectly healthful.

“But I do know they’re a million times better than tobacco,” he said.

Clark concurs.

“It’s a lot more environmentally friendly, if you will,” Clark said. “The more people we get into vaping, the less cigarette butts we’re going to have littering streets or filling landfills.”

While some people argue there are unhealthful chemicals in the liquid in vapor cigarettes, Clark maintains there are fewer chemicals in an electronic cigarette than in a traditional one.

“The ultimate plan of vaping in general for most people is to wean off nicotine completely but continue vaping,” he said. “That’s the main goal across the entire industry — is weaning people off while keeping the hobby.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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