Archived Story

E-cigarette boom leads to questions

Published 9:39am Sunday, December 1, 2013

WOODBURY — Stores that sell increasingly popular e-cigarettes are popping up around the Twin Cities, highlighting the lack of regulation or taxation of the tobacco alternative.

E-cigarettes are battery powered and produce a nicotine vapor. Owners of stores that sell the devices said demand skyrocketed in July when a state tax increase sent cigarette prices up to about $7.50 a pack.

“Sales were insane,” said Angie Griffith, who owns several Smokeless Smoking stores and kiosks.

The surging sales have left regulators scrambling to react. The federal Food and Drug Administration is expected to release regulations on e-cigarettes soon, but for now there are very few state or federal rules applying to the devices.

That’s raised concern that some varieties could serve as an introduction to nicotine for youths. Some come in flavors including root beer, and cookies and cream.

But some former traditional smokers said e-cigarettes helped them kick a tobacco habit. A new Smokeless Smoking store in Woodbury, which opened Nov. 18, has already become a social hub for e-puffers, with its dimly lit lounge with sofas, TVs, games and books.

Griffith said the ability to form friendships and impromptu support groups with fellow e-cigarette smokers is important in helping customers kick tobacco.

“Smoking” an e-cigarette involves pushing a button on the small metal cylinder, examining its tiny computer screen, applying drops of flavoring and keeping an eye on the battery, then inhaling and exhaling the vapor. The vaporized liquids come in standard varieties but can also be custom-made. Flavors mimic brands of cigarettes including Marlboro and Camel.

Gus Menth, a White Bear Lake truck driver, smoked cigarettes for 15 years. He tried to quit with nicotine patches but got so frustrated he once popped one in his mouth and chewed it. He can still remember the exact date he successfully switched to e-cigs: Jan. 15, 2011.

“I was tired of smelling bad,” Menth said. “And the cost savings is incredible.”

The metal e-cigarette costs from $30 to about $200, but is reusable. Menth and his wife, who also smokes e-cigs, estimate they are saving about $170 a month since their switch.

Menth said his breathing has improved. “I can run and play with my kid now,” he said.