The popularity of e-cigarettes are booming. Presented as a safe alternative to smoking, e-cigarettes use liquid nicotine and produce a water vapor instead of smoke, minimizing or eliminating many of the health risks associated with smoking, including second hand smoke.
"It's been around for years, and we've been doing it since 2008," says Brad McNamara, owner of Juicy Vapor, one of the many Western New York businesses that specialize in e-cigarettes. "Within the past 12 months is when it's mushroomed the most and we went from being one of three vapor shops in Western New York to probably around 30 now."
"The way we do it is you buy the device, which is a one-time purchase, and then you buy the flavorings to go in to it. With your flavorings, you can start at whatever nicotine levels you want and then you can wean yourself off as fast as you want or as slow as you want."
Many e-cigarette users have picked up the vapor-emitting products as a way to quit smoking. E-cigarettes can work much like the popular nicotine patch, but with the added visual component that makes it feel more like the real thing.
Since there's no smoke, does that mean e-cigarettes can be used inside? The answer is technically yes, although many businesses have banned their use. E-cigarette use is banned inside both Ralph Wilson Stadium and First Niagara Center, as well as many local restaurants. The Buffalo Bills have cited the confusion e-cigarettes can create because of their resemblance to tobacco cigarettes.
And just because there is no smoke, doesn't mean that e-cigarettes don't produce any by-product. The vapor produced by e-cigarettes has not been proven by the FDA to be free of any harmful chemicals, and there is an aroma given off by the flavored nicotine although e-cigarette users insist that it doesn't linger.
CJ Johnston, owner of Vapor Trail, says that smoke free shouldn't necessarily mean free to smoke. "Restaurants I always felt it was rude to smoke in, and even though it's not harmful to do this in, it's still kind of rude in a sense. It's kind of a common sense thing on where you should and shouldn't use it, but I don't think it should be illegal to use it anywhere."
The e-cigarette boom is becoming so great that even tobacco companies are getting in on the act. Philip Morris International Inc. said Wednesday it plans to enter the growing electronic cigarette business late next year and accelerate the launch of its reduced-risk products.
The seller of Marlboro and other cigarette brands overseas is joining many tobacco companies venturing into smokeless tobacco and other nicotine products to diversify beyond the declining traditional cigarette business as tax increases, health concerns, smoking bans and stigma cut into demand.
Philip Morris International's first foray into the electronic cigarette business will be similar to current products on the market but will offer an "an improved taste," CEO Andre Calantzopoulos said Wednesday at the Morgan Stanley Global Consumer Conference in New York. Calantzopoulos said the company is entering the market to get first-hand understanding of the category and help shape the regulatory debate.
Company executives in July had dismissed electronic cigarettes, saying they aren't a product that's very close to a traditional cigarette and said it was "much more the phenomena of the price than anything else."
While the future of e-cigarettes should be an attractive category for adult consumers, the company believes its next-generation products will be more attractive to cigarette smokers, Calantzopoulos said.
Philip Morris International, based in New York and Switzerland, is the world's second-biggest cigarette seller behind state-controlled China National Tobacco Corp.