E-cigarette and vapor boom complicates tobacco market

By Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder

David Patterson tried everything to quit cigarettes to no avail.

Then, after 35 years of smoking, he discovered vaping.

“I haven’t smoked a cigarette in two and a half years. I feel healthy. I can walk up a hill now without panting like an old dog,” Patterson said.

Both a vape and an e-cigarette produce vapor instead of smoke, unlike a regular cigarette. Both also use a liquid that breaks down to produce the vapor, but unlike the e-cigarette, a vape gradually heats the liquid instead of burning it.

Experts mostly agree that e-cigarettes and vaping are less dangerous than traditional cigarettes. However, the long-term effects of these new products remain unclear.

A 2014 study published by the American Lung Association suggested that e-cigarettes could be a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, but it acknowledged the limited data available on the subject.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in early May plans to regulate what is in both e-cigarettes and other alternative tobacco products. Until now, there were no regulations about what they could legally contain.

According to The American Lung Association, without FDA regulation, there is no way for health care professionals or consumers to “know what chemicals are contained in e-liquids, or how e-cigarette use might affect health, whether in the short term or in the long term.”

Owner David Patterson smoked for 35 years before he found vaping two and a half years ago. He hasn't smoked a cigarette since.

Double D Vapors Owner David Patterson smoked for 35 years before he found vaping two and a half years ago. He hasn’t smoked a cigarette since.

Patterson agrees that FDA regulation will be a good thing for e-cigarette and vape users because it will set production standards.

Patterson now owns Double D Vapors on Route 11 North in Rockbridge County and has been operating the store for almost a year and a half.

“This is helping people stay healthier, does away with cigarettes, and it’s saving them money,” he said. “It’s kind of a win-win-win.”

The vape liquid still contains nicotine, but Patterson says most of his customers use between zero and .6 milligrams of nicotine in their vapes.

One cigarette contains between 8 and 20 milligrams of nicotine.

Patterson says he tries to help his customers wean off the nicotine levels in their vapes. He says most of his customers have been able to quit smoking cigarettes completely.

“There are people who are all the way down to zero [milligrams of nicotine] and they’re just doing it because of the habit,” Patterson said. “It’s the everyday habit of hand-to-mouth. It sounds crazy, but it is an addictive habit.”

Several states have started imposing restrictions on e-cigarettes. Effective June 9, California will be the second state in the nation to raise its tobacco age to 21. And by classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products, the use of such products in public areas will become restricted.

Patterson hopes Virginia will not follow in California’s footsteps and warns that if a tax on vapes were equal to or higher than the current tax on cigarettes, it would encourage cigarettes users to continue their habits.

Virginia does not currently tax e-cigarettes. Del. Rob Krupicka of Alexandria introduced a bill in 2015 that would have created a state tax on e-cigarette and other vapor products at a rate of 40 cents per milliliter of nicotine. Additionally, the bill would have allowed Arlington and Fairfax Counties to levy an additional tax on the products that would not exceed the state rate. The bill did not pass.

“From a tax perspective, it would be a great thing. For the average person—not so great,” said Robert Mills, of Briar View Farms in Callands.

Others are not optimistic about the vape and e-cigarette market.

“There is only so much market saturation that you’re going to have with e-cigs,” said Mills.

Mills is a tobacco farmer who says the expansion of e-cigs and vaping in the past few years has hurt the tobacco industry.

“I’ve talked to some folks who have been traditional tobacco smokers who switched to e-cigs, and a lot of them have gone back,” Mills said. “They just don’t get the flavor or the feel they got out of the traditional cigarette.”