FORT WAYNE – A young woman, mid-20s, perhaps, paws at the cup of coffee sitting in front of her, glances to her left, then, with her right hand, takes a long, Bette Davis-like drag from a cigarette. Except it wasn’t a cigarette, at least in the traditional sense.
What initially appeared as smoke was instead an exhaled trail of vapor – a product of the woman’s electronic cigarette. She sat alone at the table a little longer, took a few more extended puffs from her faux cigarette, releasing the fake smoke. When she was finished, she put the device in her purse and snapped it shut.
No ash, no ashtray. No ifs, ands or butts.
If financial analysts who follow the tobacco industry are correct, the young woman could be part of a booming trend. In a June report, Wells Fargo Securities analysts estimate that e-cigarette revenue could increase its $500,000 figure from 2012 to as high as $1 billion this year, and soar to more than $27 billion by 2023.
The surging interest in e-cigarettes can be attributed to multiple factors. Municipal laws prohibit traditional smoking in most public places, including bars and restaurants. The cost for a pack of cigarettes has risen to nearly $6. With an e-cigarette, there is no offensive second-hand smoke. And it’s a healthier alternative because there is no tar, which is associated with a tobacco cigarette.
The battery-powered device has the look of a regular cigarette. But instead of burning tobacco, it has a nicotine-infused cartridge that warms into a vapor that can be inhaled. The cartomizer (cartridge and atomizer) offers several flavors, from vanilla to strawberry to tobacco.
Depending on the brand of e-cigarettes – and there are many – the cost for the cigarette and starter pack of five cartridges ranges from $75 to $110. A pack of five refill cartridges, with each cartridge offering between 350 and 400 puffs, is between $15 and $25.
Fred Silas, who sells the Clir brand of e-cigarettes at Glenbrook Square, says people stop and ask questions.
“We’ve got people that are curious and people who really want to quit smoking,” Silas says. “I kinda give them the details about the whole process and how we’re going to help everybody quit smoking.
“When they come here and ask questions about it, we tell them that this is not an alternative to smoking; it’s a way to become smoke-free, because we’ve got different levels of this product. They go from 24 milligrams of nicotine tobacco all the way down to zero milligrams. When you hit zero, you don’t need to be smoking.
“You go to the bars and stuff like that, and you see people smoking and you’ve got to have something in your hand. For those people who have zero, that’s all it is. They’re like one step away from quitting. All they’ve got to do is stay committed. This is not an alternative to smoking. This is a way to help people quit smoking.”
Unlike smoking traditional cigarettes, which were banned from local restaurants and bars in 2007, the use of e-cigarettes is permitted in most public locales.
“We have a strict no-smoking policy in here, obviously,” said Herbie Liddell, part-owner and general manager of Pierre’s Entertainment Center. “But there have been plenty of times where we’ll walk up and tell somebody to put it out, and they’ll show it. And it’s like, ‘Uh, OK.’
“From our perspective, it’s better than the alternative. One, it’s not flammable, so you’re not going to be burning the carpet. They smell a hell of a lot better. The flavored ones actually smell kind of good. But we have no problem with people bringing them in to our facility. We encourage it, just ’cause it makes it a lot easier on us, especially since they don’t have to go outside to smoke, and they can stay inside.”
Restrictions on e-cigarettes apply to airplanes, and recently, New Jersey law restricts the use of e-cigarettes in workplaces and other indoor venues.
The Indiana House of Representatives voted unanimously to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone younger than 18 years of age, joining several other states in the attempt to prevent minors from buying them.
“E-cigarettes are marketed to a younger audience because of their variety of flavors, including chocolate and strawberry,” Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, told Indianapolis TV station Fox 59. “Given their addictive nature, I believe that e-cigarettes should be subject to the same laws as regular cigarettes when it comes to minors.”
Bob Lau, 56, has been a smoker since he was 19, and smoked between one and a half and two and a half packs per day, but switched to the Blu brand of e-cigarette in January.
“It wasn’t a doctor’s recommendation, per se,” he says. “It was a choice I made, realizing (smoking) was a stupid thing to be doing.
And the e-cigarette scratches his smoking itch.
“All that cigarettes are is a mechanism to deliver nicotine, and nicotine is what keeps you smoking,” Lau said. “It satisfies in regards to the nicotine level, without having to go through the physical holding and drawing. There is a vapor that is basically vegetable oil and nicotine. It does (satisfy) in regards to the nicotine aspect of things, which is why people smoke. They do make them without nicotine … but what’s the point?
“There’s absolutely no smell to it whatsoever, so you don’t have the smell of cigarettes in the air or on your person or anything like that. There are no ashes falling all over the place, and no butts to put out.”