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VOL. 37 | NO. 44 | Friday, November 01, 2013

Bars, stores cater to e-cigarette army

By Stephanie Toone

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What’s on the menu? Lots of flavors for e-cigarette fans.

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

With online sales booming and brick-and-mortar e-cigarette retail stores popping up in Middle Tennessee, Russell Cunningham wanted a slice of the business - despite never vaping or smoking.

The Michigan native opened Smoke Powered Electronic Cigarettes two years ago as a side business. The retail store on Nolensville Road is opened seven days a week, and Cunningham is in the market for a larger, traffic-heavy storefront. He is now a regular vaper, but still chooses to vape without nicotine.

Nashville Vapor sells all kinds of supplies as part of its electronic cigarette business. Some say e-cigs help people stop traditional smoking.  

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

“People come here every day asking whether we have certain flavors or brands, so I can tell the difference in awareness from just a year ago,” he explains. “E-cigarettes as an industry has grown by leaps and bounds while cigarette sales are slightly declining.”

The e-cigarette boom has presented itself in the form of various electronic cigarette vendors opening stores across the Nashville area. The new stores have given e-cigarette users social settings in which to gather, and some local restaurants and bars are welcoming the vapers.

Still, in the eyes of some business owners, vaping is just as unwelcomed as traditional tobacco.

E-cigarettes boom big

A top tobacco analyst, Bonnie Herzog with Wells Fargo Securities, recently predicted that the once novel, online-only commodity will more than double in sales this year – reaching more than $1.7 billion in the U.S. alone.

Tobacco companies are taking notice to the expedient rise in interest and sales of e-cigarettes. Lorillard Tobacco Co., which owns brands like Newport, recently bought the top-selling e-cigarette maker Blu, according to Herzog. Other leading e-cig brands include Njoy and Vapor (Krave).

Introduced in the U.S. in 2007, e-cigarettes remained confined to internet sales for a couple of years before the FDA debate over regulating the product garnered more attention.

The threat of federal regulation proved to savvy entrepreneurs that the flavorful, liquid cigarettes were more than a gimmick.

It’s social

Currently, the Nashville area has a smattering of retail stores offering the product in virtually every corner of town, including Cunningham’s store, Nashville Vapor in West Nashville, Vulcan Vape in Midtown and Saffire Vapor in Cool Springs and Murfreesboro.

The new business has spilled over into social meetups at such local favorites as Green Hill’s Greenhouse Bar, which allows smoking, says bartender Leslie Scobey.

“We have a group of them come in every other Friday, and we welcome it,” Scobey adds.

Mad Donna’s in East Nashville does not hold meetups, but Amanda Keele, a manager at the restaurant and bar, said she has not stopped vaping patrons from using e-cigarettes inside the restaurant.

“If someone complained, we would stop them, but I think people are less likely to complain about them,” Keele says. “I’m a former smoker, and it doesn’t bother me as much to have the e-cigarettes around me.”

A way to stop smoking tobacco

Dave Pellicane, who owns Nashville Vapor, says the flavorful, personal vaporizers helped him quit smoking, and Stacy Evans first tried Blu e-cigarette after spending 20 years as a smoker.

Now, the Greenbrier woman vapes the flavors of banana pudding satisfying her desire for nicotine and relieving her from the stigma associated with traditional smoking.

“I feel free of that stigma. I like that there are meetups almost weekly that you can go to, meet fellow vapers and friends and actually turn it into a hobby,” Evans says.

“There are some people who might still look at it a little funny, the ones who don’t know what it is, but I know eventually, everyone will look at it as the normal thing rather than as if it was just a cancer stick.”

No vaping at Rayburn’s spots

Randy Rayburn, owner of Sunset Grille, Midtown Cafe and Cabana, does not foresee ever accepting electronic cigarettes in his non-smoking establishments. He is one of many local restaurateurs hoping for some guidance from state officials on the issue.

“If these are smokeless, why are there visible vapors exhaled? Legitimate research will show that the vapors are harmful second hand,” Rayburn says.

“The Tennessee Commissioner of Health must lead the way on this public health issue.”

Many workplaces and businesses have made their own policies on e-cigarettes. Vanderbilt University Medical Center also takes the stance that electronic cigarettes are harmful to their patients and employees, so they are not allowed on the hospital’s campus, said John Howser, Assistant Vice Chancellor for News and Communications.

“The Medical Center’s smoking policy relates to all smoking products, including electronic cigarettes. We do not draw a distinction,” Howser said.

Though e-cigarettes are still met with opposition, the growth of the industry and its users proves there is market in Nashville and across the country,

Pellicane will soon open a second location in Smyrna.

Once the novelty wears off, the acceptance from restaurant owners, hospitals and the general public will follow suit, he says.

“Whenever something “new” emerges, there will be people who will form opinions before they are educated on the subject,” Pellicane explains. “So far, we have been very lucky, that most people we have dealt with have approached electronic cigarettes with a fairly open mind.”

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