You’d think it would be fairly simple to trace the impact of e-cigarettes in the Manhattan area.
But you’d be wrong.
These little smokeless nicotine dispensers have caused headaches for every organization that’s gone near them (medical agencies, governmental bodies, trade groups, giant tobacco companies, etc.), and the situation is only getting worse as ingesting flavored nicotine electronically seems to be getting more popular by the week.
The only option here seems to be tossing out the most frequently asked questions on a local level — and providing the simplest answer possible.
And that means starting with a proper description of an e-cigarette – which isn’t actually a cigarette at all.
Q: Right, then, what is an e-cigarette?
A: There are several answers, depending on your cultural bias, so for the sake of moving along here, let start with an explanation from the world’s most quoted source of information.
Yep…straight from Wikipedia:
“An electronic cigarette (e-cig or e-cigarette), personal vaporizer (PV) or electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) is a battery-powered vaporizer which simulates tobacco smoking by producing an aerosol that resembles smoke. It generally uses a heating element known as an atomizer that vaporizes a liquid solution known as e-liquid.
“E-liquids usually contain a mixture of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine, and flavorings.”
Note: We’ve left out one small part of that overview because it refers to e-cigarettes that contain no nicotine at all — and for the purposes of this discussion, that’s bubble-gum stuff that nobody seems to mind.
Q: Do these things actually burn and create smoke?
A: No. The electronic source (or battery) heats the liquid, and when you puff on the stem, you ingest a vapor. Some of that is released into the air, but it has the consistency of a light fog. If it has any smell, it would be whatever flavoring (grape, mint, root beer, etc.) was added to what regular users call the “juice.”
Q: So there is no second-hand smoke, obviously. Does that mean e-cigarettes can be used in just about any setting?
A: See, now we’re getting to the headache area. There are plenty of places in Manhattan where smoking is banned that you can vape (that’s the common term) to your heart’s content. And there are other spots where it’s prohibited.
“The problem is that these products have gotten so popular, and so quickly, that there really isn’t any FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) regulation or firm medical evidence for guidance,” said Bill Smriga, director of the K-State Student Union.
“With everything so inconclusive at the moment, for now we’ve chosen to err on the side of caution and prohibited electronic nicotine products.”
Kansas State University itself has no guidelines covering e-cigarettes and related products.
“We’ve checked with our legal folks, and the truth is that there’s nothing to look at,” said Jeff Morris, the school’s vice president of communication. “No university policy at the moment.
“Ultimately, as more guidance and regulation is put in place, I’m sure we’ll take a look at it.”
Yes, that means a professor with no particular objection to vapors wafting around a seat could allow e-cigarettes in a lecture hall.
Q: Where else in Manhattan are e-cigarettes and vapor aficionados welcome?
A: Lots of places, actually — although serious sellers of these products are trying to promote a culture of courtesy. In other words, don’t vape in front of a family of kids, or anywhere that it’s likely to offend someone.
But to address the original question, the common areas of Manhattan Town Center have no restrictions.
“We feel there’s no use looking for fixes to non-existent problems,” said Allen Raynor, the center’s general manager. “Our individual tenants can make their own decisions inside their places of business.”
Most bars and restaurants in Aggieville allow e-cigarettes, although some might ask a vape enthusiast to desist (or move) if another patron objects to seeing what appears to be smoking.
In other businesses and public buildings, it’s best to ask.
Q: But what about actual health issues? We know cigarettes are dangerous — so what are the risks with e-versions?
A: Most physicians (and the American Medical Association) would advise patients against using any form of nicotine.
“This is all still very much in the research phase,” said Manhattan internist Dr. James Gardner. “We know about nicotine being addictive, and it has properties that can constrict blood flow in some people, so there may be heart issues.
“And of course these e-cigarettes are so new (they were developed in China in 2003), that we have no way to study the effects of long-term usage yet.
“But beyond the scientific issues, there is the matter of these things being marketed in a manner — with all the pleasant flavors — that they’re attractive to young people.
“That can’t be a good thing, having more kids smoking — no matter how they get the nicotine.
“It’s true that the nicotine is one of the least offensive properties in tobacco, so there is the argument that if someone is going to do it in any case, that seems to suggest that an e-cigarette is safer than smoking tobacco with all its carcinogens.
“I’m not sure that’s an endorsement, though — the least of two things that are unhealthy in different ways.”
All parties agree that e-cigarettes eliminate second-hand smoke, residual smells that could cause breathing issues and so forth.
The question seems to be whether any medical board can condone the use of anything containing nicotine.
Q: Where can I buy e-cigarettes?
A: Well, you can get the cheaper and easier-to-try devices at convenience stores — and more places every day because of the popularity of vaping. The business has gone from virtually nothing to a $2.2 billion industry in less than three years.
If you really want to understand vaping and get instruction, then you could try a specialty shop.
There are three in Manhattan, all of which have opened this year:
• Juicy’s Vapor Lounge, 1203 Moro Street
• Manhattan Vapors, 700 Rosencutter Road, Suite C
• The VapeBar, 312C Tuttle Creek Blvd.
These places — and a few cigar shops with knowledgeable staff like The Fridge on Westport Road — totally embrace the vaping culture, and generally you find folks around those places who used to smoke cigarettes, gave them up for vapor products and now consider it a lifestyle choice.
“It’s pretty amazing to follow the industry,” said Cas Caswell, who owns Manhattan Vapors.
“There is a study that suggests that by 2024, there will be more people vaping as a means of getting nicotine than by smoking cigarettes.
“That’s obviously why the giant tobacco companies all are getting involved. Every one of them now has a line of e-cigarettes — which they make sure look exactly like real cigarettes, as opposed to the vaping products that we sell and promote.
“Personally, I don’t want to carry e-cigarettes. That’s not the tie-in or the relationship that we’re all about. This is a completely different culture.”
Q: What will the FDA do?
A: Aha, the million-dollar question.
“You can’t kid anybody that nicotine, even without any of the harmful additives you find in tobacco cigarettes, isn’t a stimulant — or that it isn’t addictive,” Caswell said.
“Our argument is that when you pick a juice, you not only select a flavor, but the amount of nicotine you want, so you can keep it pretty low.”
Justin Dowell, manager of Juicy’s, echoes the theme that the industry (Oklahoma-based Juicy’s has 14 locations) has nothing to hide.
“Try it before you buy it,” Dowell said. “These are safe products and we encourage customers to use them in proper social settings. I’m not even a proponent of vaping anyplace where you wouldn’t be allowed to smoke.”
As for regulations that appear to be coming from the FDA, Dowell (like others in the business) seems a bit suspicious.
“I don’t understand how you can pass law based on ‘I don’t know,’ ” he said.
Caswell sounds even more skeptical.
“What they can do without any proof of health issues,” he said, “would be to add taxes and make registration and testing of each product so expensive that all the little guys might go out of business.
“Of course, that just plays into the hands of Big Tobacco and its goal of making sure vaping products become as expensive as actual cigarettes.
“Right now, for a regular user, once you have the start-up kit, the cost of e-products is about one-fifth of the price of cigarettes.”