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Some turning to e-cigarettes as alternative to smoking

As Batavia resident Todd Kirk sucked on an electronic cigarette while sitting at Black Forest Vapor in Batavia recently, a stream of water vapor emitted from it.

Kirk is part of a growing number of people who are turning to e-cigarettes. About 6 percent of all adults have tried e-cigarettes, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, with estimates nearly doubling from 2010.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that vaporize nicotine. E-cigarettes were created in China and first sold in 2003.

Those who use e-cigarettes “vape” rather than smoke. Vaping utilizes a propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin-based liquid, mixed with small amounts of nicotine and food grade flavoring that are then vaporized in a small battery powered atomizer, and is designed to simulate the experience of smoking. Kirk, 43, said he turned to e-cigarettes after he quit smoking more than a year ago.

“I come from a long line of smokers,” Kirk said. “I didn’t want to be a smoker anymore.”

Since he has switched to e-cigarettes, Kirk said he feels healthier, ticking off several ways his health has improved.

“My lung capacity is stronger,” Kirk said. “I started sleeping better. My sinuses aren’t dried out. My teeth are whiter than they used to be.”

The verdict is still out, however, on the health impacts of e-cigarettes. Centers of Disease Control officials said although e-cigarettes appear to have far fewer of the toxins found in smoke compared to traditional cigarettes, the impact of e-cigarettes on long-term health must be studied. They said research is needed to assess how e-cigarette marketing could affect initiation and use of traditional cigarettes, particularly among young people.

“If large numbers of adult smokers become users of both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes – rather than using e-cigarettes to quit cigarettes completely – the net public health effect could be quite negative,” Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said, according to a statement.

The increasing popularity of vaping has presented new challenges to restaurant and bar owners. The Smoke-free Illinois Act, which took effect Jan. 1, 2008, prohibits smoking in virtually all public places and workplaces.

“We kind of don’t say anything unless people complain,” said Bob Karas, the owner and general manager of several restaurants in the area, including Rookies Sports Pub & Grill in St. Charles. “We so far haven’t had many people use these in the restaurant portion of our establishments. At the bar, we do see it every once in a while.”

He noted Chicago recently banned vaping in indoor public places.

“We would be happy to see a clear-cut rule on this to minimize confusion,” Karas said. “It’s hard for restaurants to draw lines and make rules and then risk losing customers.”

In April, the federal Food and Drug Administration proposed treating e-cigarettes as tobacco products with rules such as a ban on sales to those under 18 and warning labels. The American Medical Association also has urged a ban on kid-appealing flavors and other moves to keep e-cigarettes out of young hands.

Black Forest Vapor owner Jason Wilson said his store doesn’t sell its products to minors. In Illinois, it is illegal for minors under the age of 18 to buy tobacco products.

“You have to be 18 and older to vape,” Wilson said. “A customer has to provide identification, and we do card hard.”

He said business has been brisk since opening the store in February at the intersection of Kirk Road and Wind Energy Pass in Batavia. Along with selling a variety of different flavors, Black Forest Vapor also sells customized equipment.

Wilson said he can’t say whether vaping is a healthier alternative.

“But most people in the vaping community can see the health benefits and financial benefits,” he said. “Ten milliliters of liquid costs $10, [and the amount of liquid] is the equivalent of 41/2 packs of cigarettes.”

Wilson said he opened the shop so he could help people stop smoking.

“I have probably helped about 200 people stop smoking since opening,” Wilson said.

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