DANVILLE, Ill. - LaToya Johnson, a non-smoker, wandered into Vapors, curious about its electronic cigarettes.
After sampling some flavors, she was a convert and vowed to tell her smoker friends about the devices, which some people say helped them kick tobacco.
"This is nice. This is awesome," she said as she inhaled on one of the cigarettes. "I don't smoke, but I would do this." However, she added that she would want one of the non-nicotine "juices."
Johnson's enthusiasm for e-cigarettes was echoed by several other customers on a recent afternoon as they browsed or bought at Vapors, a new shop in Towne Centre.
The shop, which opened in March, specializes in the holders, flavored liquids, batteries and other items. Other businesses in town also sell e-cigarettes, including Tobacco Warehouse and B&J Music.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated nicotine-delivery devices that mimic the look and feel of smoking. The heater inside the unit vaporizes a liquid solution. At Vapors, the liquid contains four ingredients - nicotine, a flavor, vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol. The last two ingredients are used in food.
The user gets a puff of hot gas, which feels a lot like tobacco smoke. When he exhales, a cloud of vapor looks like smoke, but it's odorless and quickly dissipates.
The user chooses how much nicotine - if any - he wants in the e-cigarette. At Vapors, users may choose 24, 16 or 8 milligrams of nicotine. A non-nicotine liquid is available at the Champaign store, and is coming soon to Danville. The user also chooses a flavor, which is part of the liquid solution.
The devices come in all sizes and vary in their power, including how much vapor they produce, depending on the battery.
The Food and Drug Administration has said it intends to regulate e-cigarettes as it does regular cigarettes, it has not yet done so. In Illinois and Indiana, there are no state laws except for the requirement that a person must be 18 or over to purchase e-cigarettes.
Some cities, such as Chicago, have expanded their tobacco regulations to include e-cigarettes. Both Danville Area Community College and Presence United Samaritans Medical Center have tobacco-free policies that include a ban on electronic cigarettes.
Also, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association don't condone e-cigarettes as a viable quit-smoking option.
Nonetheless, those who have embraced the e-cig trend say the devices have helped wean them away from tobacco cigarettes, which contain thousands of harmful ingredients, some of them carcinogenic.
Melissa Freeman, owner of Vapors stores in Danville and Champaign, said most of her customers are trying to stop smoking - and they've had success with e-cigarettes. Her father, who smoked for 35 years, stopped after two months, with help from an e-cigarette.
She was a smoker for 15 years, but started "vaping" - the term used by e-cig users - about four years ago. With three children ranging in age from 2-12, she was concerned about exposing them to the harmful tobacco smoke, and was tired having to step outside every time she wanted a smoke.
People have a difficult time giving up smoking because it's incorporated into so many daily activities; for example, many smokers want a cigarette with a cup of coffee. That hand-to-mouth action is hard to give up, she said.
E-cigarettes give them the sensation of smoking and also deliver some nicotine, but at a lower risk.
A lot of her customers haven't had success with nicotine patches, gum and other methods, she said, adding, "If you can't quit, this is the greatest place to be."
With e-cigarettes, she said, "You feel so much better, you smell better. You don't realize how (tobacco) cigarettes are affecting you on a day-to-day basis."
Freeman also said she's careful about where she gets her ingredients for the liquid solution in the e-cigarettes, also called juice. She buys the nicotine from a pharmaceutical company, and uses only USDA-grade vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol.
In response to critics who question the ingredients in the liquids and who say nicotine is harmful in any form, she said, "I realize it's not 100 percent good for you, but I know it's better than cigarettes."
Most of Vapors' customers are trying to quit smoking, and her customers represent all ages; most are 30 and older who are trying to quit for their children's sake.
Joshua Pilatz of Kingman, Ind., is one of those customers who has never smoked, but took up vaping nine months ago.
"I do it just for fun," he said, adding that his motto is "Keep calm and vape on."
Pilatz, 23, also makes his own coils, which heat the liquid, and flavors; his favorites are gummy bears and menthol. He orders his ingredients online.
Randy McDuffee and Mary McQueen of Danville were scouting the merchandise last week, hoping to kick their smoking habit so they wouldn't get out of breath when playing with their daughter.
He and McQueen tried several flavors using disposable mouthpieces while trying to decide. Vapors offers more than 80 flavors, including Red Hots, coffee with cream, Snickers, Irish cream, clove, banana Foster, pineapple, Skittles, vanilla tobacco, chocolate mint and cinnamon roll.
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