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Tobacco alternative gains popularity at Xsmoke Vape Smart in Concord

  • David Clough, 68, takes a break from working in his wood shop to smoke from his electronic cigarette in his living room in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, March 26, 2014. Clough has been a heavy cigarette smoker since his teenage years and has been using the the electronic cigarette as a way to cut back. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    David Clough, 68, takes a break from working in his wood shop to smoke from his electronic cigarette in his living room in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, March 26, 2014. Clough has been a heavy cigarette smoker since his teenage years and has been using the the electronic cigarette as a way to cut back.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Different favor e-cigarette cartridges are on display for testing at XSmoke Vape Smart owned by Deb Tickel in the Steeplegate Mall on Monday, March 31, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Different favor e-cigarette cartridges are on display for testing at XSmoke Vape Smart owned by Deb Tickel in the Steeplegate Mall on Monday, March 31, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • An ashtray with a cigarette butt from earlier in the day sits in David Clough's Concord kitchen on Wednesday afternoon, March 26, 2014. Clough has been a heavy cigarette smoker since his teenage years and has been using the the electronic cigarette as a way to cut back. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    An ashtray with a cigarette butt from earlier in the day sits in David Clough's Concord kitchen on Wednesday afternoon, March 26, 2014. Clough has been a heavy cigarette smoker since his teenage years and has been using the the electronic cigarette as a way to cut back.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Different varieties of e-cigarettes are on display at XSmoke Vape Smart owned by Deb Tickel in the Steeplegate Mall on Monday, March 31, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Different varieties of e-cigarettes are on display at XSmoke Vape Smart owned by Deb Tickel in the Steeplegate Mall on Monday, March 31, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Justin Hartley of Chichester tests a new flavor for his e-cigarette at XSmoke Vape Smart owned by Deb Tickel in the Steeplegate Mall on Monday, March 31, 2014.  Hartley completely quit smoking cigarettes three weeks ago with the help of his ecig.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Justin Hartley of Chichester tests a new flavor for his e-cigarette at XSmoke Vape Smart owned by Deb Tickel in the Steeplegate Mall on Monday, March 31, 2014. Hartley completely quit smoking cigarettes three weeks ago with the help of his ecig.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • David Clough, 68, takes a break from working in his wood shop to smoke from his electronic cigarette in his living room in Concord on Wednesday afternoon, March 26, 2014. Clough has been a heavy cigarette smoker since his teenage years and has been using the the electronic cigarette as a way to cut back. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Different favor e-cigarette cartridges are on display for testing at XSmoke Vape Smart owned by Deb Tickel in the Steeplegate Mall on Monday, March 31, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • An ashtray with a cigarette butt from earlier in the day sits in David Clough's Concord kitchen on Wednesday afternoon, March 26, 2014. Clough has been a heavy cigarette smoker since his teenage years and has been using the the electronic cigarette as a way to cut back. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Different varieties of e-cigarettes are on display at XSmoke Vape Smart owned by Deb Tickel in the Steeplegate Mall on Monday, March 31, 2014.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Justin Hartley of Chichester tests a new flavor for his e-cigarette at XSmoke Vape Smart owned by Deb Tickel in the Steeplegate Mall on Monday, March 31, 2014.  Hartley completely quit smoking cigarettes three weeks ago with the help of his ecig.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

David Clough can’t really say why he started smoking.

He was 14. His friends smoked, so he smoked. It wasn’t too long before he was smoking 2½ packs a day.

Fifty-four years later, he can’t really say why he decided to cut back a few years ago, either.

Now, he’s down to 10 or so cigarettes a day, but he uses an electronic cigarette in place of most of the ones he’s skipping.

“It’s helping me, yes,” he said. “It relaxes me. . . . I know I could (smoke even less) if I really focused hard on it, but then I’d be ugly. I’d be cranky, sarcastic. I don’t like being like that. But I’m cutting back.”

Clough’s is the kind of story public health officials want to hear about electronic cigarettes – a smoker who has cut down on tobacco use, reducing his risk for cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

But with many unanswered questions, some officials worry the increasingly popular vapor-based devices are merely creating a new generation of nicotine addicts who believe “vaping” is safe.

A Chinese entrepreneur invented the e-cigarette in 2003, and research in the decade since has answered many questions about the products, but not all.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue regulations this spring, but until then, the industry is unregulated. Both huge corporations and mom-and-pop shops mix and sell the flavored “e-juices” that users heat in their devices and inhale as vapor.

The known e-juice ingredients – nicotine and propylene glycol – are “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, but that determination wasn’t necessarily made based on heating and inhaling them.

Other chemicals that flavor the vapor and the effects of long-term use of those aren’t understood, either.

But getting away from the tar, ammonia, arsenic, and other chemicals in cigarettes that are known to cause cancer was one of the main reasons Deb Tickel of West Deerfield first started vaping after 30 years of smoking.

Now, a year after switching, she’s operating a busy e-cigarette store in the Steeplegate Mall, Xsmoke Vape Smart.

On an ordinary weeknight last week, four people stopped by over the course of an hour to check out her products.

They range in price from a $4 replacement wick, to a starter kit with extra batteries and vaporizer options that tops $100. A refill of liquid nicotine that can last two to three weeks costs about $12, significantly less expensive than cigarettes.

“I loved smoking. I miss it,” Tickel said. “I don’t miss cigarettes. I don’t miss the smell. I don’t miss waking up feeling like my throat was a burnt-out chimney.”

Her senses of smell and taste have improved, and she’s sleeping more soundly since switching, she said.

“My doctors are definitely happier with me,” she said.

She doesn’t mix the juice in her store but sells premade flavors (pear, strawberry, cinnamon and row after row of others) from American companies that say they use the same FDA-approved flavorings for food.

But some public health officials object more strongly to how the products are marketed than to what’s in them.

“I don’t want people to start smoking, period,” said Jose Montero, director of New Hampshire’s Division of Public Health.

“If they are already smoking, the recommendation from the public health perspective is to quit, with the support of nicotine patches or gums. In theory, e-cigarettes could fit there,” Montero said.

“But the biggest problem I have is, through advertising, they are enticing new people to take it up. They are able for the first time to add things with flavors, to use sexy pictures, a girl in the bikini – things that are clearly targeted to engage a new generation to be hooked to something that will be a bridge to smoking.”

The goal is not to hook new young users, Tickel said.

“I have a 3-year-old granddaughter. This will not be left around so that she can go, ‘Oh, grape,’ and get her hands on it,” she said. “If someone’s never smoked, they shouldn’t be using this. It shouldn’t be portrayed as cool. . . . But I don’t see nicotine as a health problem. It’s not any worse than caffeine.”

Anecdotally and through surveys he’s conducted, Michael Seigel, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, is convinced the majority of e-cigarette users are smokers or former smokers looking to quit tobacco without quitting nicotine.

The visitors to Xsmoke last Thursday bear that out.

Tim Martin, 29, of Laconia popped over from his job at the neighboring Verizon store. He started smoking 15 years ago, bumming cigarettes from co-workers.

Two years ago, he started vaping occasionally, and now only smokes once or twice a week.

“There’s the same effect, the same feeling of smoking without actually doing it,” he said. “I read studies that said nicotine is right for some people. It’s not great for everyone, but we don’t fully understand it. Caffeine is worse for you, from what I’ve read.”

Sherri Pates, 44, of Epsom started smoking when she was 12.

Her husband, James Pates, tried for several years to convince her to try e-cigarettes instead.

“I enjoy smoking – after a good meal, with coffee, when you’re drinking,” she said.

She used to smoke about 10 cigarettes a day. In the past year, she quit entirely and has even reduced the amount of nicotine in her vaporizer.

She says she’s not coughing any more, her clothes and her hair don’t smell anymore, and like Tickel, her sense of smell has gotten stronger.

“I can smell everything now. I can smell when someone walks by, if they’ve been smoking. It smells so gross,” she said.

Though she’s reduced the nicotine content in the vapor she uses, she’s not rushing to quit entirely.

James, her husband, is still working on her, though.

He quit smoking 20 years ago for health reasons. He doesn’t use the water vapor, calling it “a temptation.”

He’d like his wife to quit entirely, concerned about the nicotine’s effect on her diabetes.

“I like her,” he said. “I want to hang around with her for a while.”

Proponents say there’s more to vaping than nicotine, though. They say it’s more successful than other methods of nicotine replacement, like patches and gum, because it also replaces the behavior of smoking – raising your hand to your mouth, the deep breaths in, the hit to the throat, the cloudy exhale.

It’s something to play with in her hands, Pates said, and it’s a comfort in times of distress, Clough said.

Now 68, Clough has realized he smoked the most when he was depressed or stressed.

“I’m not gonna say I will or I won’t quit the whole thing. But I’m trying,” he said.

“The hardest part is when you’re depressed or stressed,” he said. “It’s just a matter of having it between your fingers.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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