Quitting the Sticks (Part IV, Feeling Fine and Lookin' Good!)
I'm really getting there.
I love coconut; coconut cream pie, Easter eggs, Mounds and Almond Joy bars. I have eaten shaved coconut from the can when my mom was baking deserts. Those little cinnamon candies, Irish potatoes, that we eat on Saint Paddy’s day are awesome. I’m sitting in Herself’s car, headed to Philly to visit with the offspring and their offspring. I am happily hitting my Infuse loaded up with EC Blend coconut flavoring. While Lyn drives, the dog and I while away the miles staring out the window, our tongues dangling, putting little snot marks on the window with our wet noses. I have time to think about how far I’ve come with my smoking cessation. As I’ve said before, this is too easy an approach for me to be overly proud of myself, but I am pleased so far.
I am seven weeks now, using electronic cigarettes. I have spent approximately $240. That seems like a lot of money until you consider that in the same period, I’d have burned through over $360 smoking cigarettes with nothing material to show for it. And I wouldn’t feel as good as I do right now. I’d still be every bit as good-looking, but that’s beside the point.
itazte VTR…This is my latest vaping apparatus. It is rather heavy. You won’t want to carry this one in your pocket. It is powerful, adjustable and can fit several types of tanks. I keep it nearby loaded with my favorite flavors. The two smaller ones, eGo and Infuse, go in my pocket.
Big Kids, New Toys
I am also enjoying a pleasure similar to acquiring a new hobby. To really get rid of the traditional smokes, there is a lot to learn; how to load and use an e-cig, where to get your favorite juices, replacement parts, etc. And it all makes for good conversation. Now that I use an e-cig, I notice them more often. We recently had AC technician visit the office where I work, also known as the place-too-far-from-my-house-that-makes-me-sad. I noticed an e-cig sticking out of his tool bag. He and I got into a long conversation about it. It’s fun to listen to folks telling me about their learning curve, bad flavor experiments (I still have Kona Delight flashbacks. See chart in Part III of this series.) and the money they’ve saved. I never tell them I hear the same stories all the time.
But the most interesting thing about vaping is the hardware. My friends at Avail Vapor have quite a selection. They have everything from the basic eGo, about the size of a pen, up to machined steel cylinders that are 1 ½” wide and weigh almost a pound (car battery not included). There are units on the market shaped like a traditional pack of smokes and even one made to look like a hand grenade. They also have the type of e-cigs that look like traditional cigarettes. I always recommend smokers try them to see what vaping is like before investing in anything more extravagant.
Watching people shop for their vaping gear is like watching grownups shop for their model train collection…in a head shop (Avail maintains an edgy image). Customers ogle new stuff, brag about what they’re using and make confident recommendations and contra-recommendations.
Lesson in e-cigs
Note: "Dry pull" mentioned in the video means taking a drag on the e-cig without pushing the button. No heat is applied and juice is pulled onto the wick.
From the Horses Mouth
The success of my local vapor store is a big indicator where this industry is going. I spoke with Cole Smith, one of the founders of the chain of Avail Vapor outlets, to get the story behind their success.
MJ: How long has Avail been in business?
CS: Our first retail location opened up on August. Before that we were in the wholesale side of things. But in August we opened up a location down in Richmond. Then by December we opened up the balance of five and we're going to open up quite a few more in the next few months.
MJ: You guys are going to make a killing on northern Virginia.
CS: That's the primary market we are targeting right now. It's the next step. It's a progression. We're in Virginia now and we're going for northern Virginia, Maryland and DC proper.
MJ: I was looking around the store, and I had seen online when I started looking at e-cigarettes…places that look like ether coffee shops or wine bars, it's hard to tell. But you have so much room in that store; have you ever considered expanding out to other ideas?
CS: Other ideas, you mean making like a hybrid situation?
MJ: Yeah, other ideas like a wine and juice bar along with the vapor or get a barista back there…?
CS: You mean get into a line like wine or coffee or something like that?
CS: The reason we have so much…wall space is…to offer that testing experience where the consumer can come in and at their leisure, try the flavors at their own pace… in a non congested [way]. If you go into most places right now, you'll find that all the flavors are in a central location where the consumer has to stand there and…with a line or with a large group and access from four or five points to try the flavors out. So that means, to answer your question, we're looking to maintain our current status with the vapor offerings exclusively…for the consumers to have a good experience; to make for the consumer and the surrounding community a vapor-related event.
MJ: Okay, focus on your strong suit.
The author can attest to the soundness of their setup. On every bit of available wall-space, as well as a column in the middle of the floor, are rows of tasting stations where a customer can taste flavors at their own pace. Three bazillion flavors, no waiting.
MJ: How long have you been with Avail?
CS: I've been with Avail for a little over a year.
MJ: And you are the owner of this [Central Park] store or the regional manager or…?
CS: We're three partners. We have six stores. We're developing a hierarchy between ourselves and the region we're developing. James Shoe and Don Phillips are the other two involved. Don is the mastermind behind all the flavors you enjoy. We all worked with James at Evergreen Enterprises here in Richmond.
Listening to Cole, it appears that once the three partners were in sync, it was like the Beatles bringing Ringo onboard. The timing, the chemistry, the product and the capitol were all aligned. The team put together a retail operation that is growing very quickly. I have been in their F'burg store several times for interviews or as a customer and it always seems busy. Since I and 65% of the local population leave town during normal business hours, I would assume they do have some slow times. But it is also a fair bet that people trying to dump regular cigarettes need there e-cig supplies at all times of the day. I'm going to call the vapor business a very good bet for entrepreneurs.
MJ: If I were to walk up to you on the street and say, "What is it you do? What is that weird thing people are sucking on?" What would you say to that?
CS: We consider ourselves a juice (nicotine liquid) company. And with that, coupled with the retail expansion, we're trying to bring the convergence of a high quality, American-made juice that is offered in a Starbuck's-style setting…to give the consumer across all demographics, across the board, that is smoking currently, the opportunity to enjoy the flavor and the quality of what is made here in Richmond in a setting that is comfortable and engaging with both the setting and the staff. We're looking to give the American consumer that has not experienced, or had the opportunity, a wide array of flavors in a setting that the stay at home mom or the twenty-something or the gentleman that's in his sixties that's looking to quit [smoking] and wants to try electronic cigarettes can, and try the juice in the process. Fundamentally, that's it.
There is one thing that honest brokers in the vapor business want to press home at every opportunity: The electronic cigarette is not legally considered a smoking cessation product. As Cole says, "It's an alternative; it's an option for folks to try. And there's tons of research out there that they can access."
Also, Chase has a pet peeve. He says younger folks are always coming in and asking to see Avails "hookah pens". This sets his teeth on edge. While he understands the trendy nickname, he feels it's important to understand the differences at work here. Using a hookah is smoking. There is combustion involved. The user is still sucking in all the junk a cigarette smoker is. It may be lighter in some cases, but it IS smoking. An e-cigarette delivers vapor. There is no ash, tar, carbon monoxide, etc. So give poor Chase a break. Don't call it a hookah pen. On second thought, I think I'll go to Avail tomorrow and tell Chase I need a new hookah pen, just to spin him up.
This bin is a no brainer for people really trying to quit smoking traditional cigs. If you toss a half pack or more into the bin (half of a $5.00 pack would be about $2.50 worth of cigarettes) Avail will give you a bottle of juice worth approximately $8.00. Not only is that that a great return at face value, but in my experience, those bottles last longer than five packs of cigarettes. A very good trade, indeed.
Some Final Thoughts
I have learned a great deal over the last several weeks, about smoking, vaping, marketing and about myself. For those wondering if I have actually quit, the answer is no. I am still backsliding from time to time. My greatest weakness is while commuting. I have a long one. If I do cheat, that's when it will occur. But my hard and fast quit date is 2 April. Why that day? Because if I chose 1 April, I can always say, "Hey, April Fool! I was only kidding. Gimme a cigarette."
Of note: I have been told several times, including by people who don't know I'm trying to quit smoking, that I look "healthy". I didn't know I looked sick before. But I'll take it.
I like what I see of this new industry so far. The domestic businesses I have dealt with seem to be earnest about running an honest business and turning a healthy profit. I wish them the best.
I have also watched with some interest the talk about banning and regulating and taxing the industry. I would advise proponents of those ideas to move cautiously. I can say with complete honesty that if this product was as regulated and as heavily taxed as cigarettes, I wouldn't have considered switching. It would be made far too expensive. I'd be smoking a pack and a half a day versus less than a pack a week. The innovations we've seen in terms of design and variety would have been squelched entirely by the inept, ham-handed government weenies who would be in charge of the program. Please, for once, let's watch as this thing unfolds and not leap to the whining of the perpetually outraged busy bodies in our midst to interfere in what is so far, looking like a very good development for getting rid of cigarettes on a huge scale.
It's been fun. Vape 'em if you got 'em. Dismissed!
Matt Jordan is a travel writer living in Thornburg, Virginia.
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