Up in Vapor

Ryan M. Carroll, 21, made it his New Year’s resolution this year to quit smoking.

The Gloversville resident had been hooked on cigarettes since he was 12, and tried all the usual smoking cessation methods, from Nicorette gum to nicotine-replacement patches. Nothing worked for him until he purchased his first electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, in January.

“I got my first one [on] Jan. 13 of this year, 2014, and that was that; as soon as I got it I stopped smoking,” Carroll said. “And then it kind of turned into a little hobby; I started getting into the mechanics of it and the mods, modifying them. I started making my own e-liquid.”

Carroll is now turning his enthusiasm for the product into a business venture. On May 1, Carroll will open an e-cigarette store, Vapor Geekz, at 84 N. Main St. in Gloversville, with the goal of “[getting] everyone to quit smoking.”

He hasn’t fully weaned himself off nicotine, the addictive drug in both cigarettes and e-cigarettes. But he has cut down from 24 milligrams to 12 milligrams of nicotine per bottle of e-liquid solution, which is heated by the e-cigarette device into a vapor that is then inhaled. E-liquid is sold in varying strengths, with the weakest varieties made with no nicotine at all.

“It’s a similar action [to traditional smoking] because you’re still inhaling something,” Carroll said. “You still feel it in your chest like a cigarette, but it doesn’t feel dirty. Even in the time I’ve been quit, my lung function has improved so much. I can run up and down stairs and not get winded.”

Eric Swick, president of e-cigarette and e-liquid maker Revolution Vapor in Amsterdam, has a similar story to Carroll’s. He began using e-cigarettes in late 2009, and has since quit traditional cigarettes.

His company’s e-liquid and vaporizers are now sold at stores around the country, with the most business coming from the South, he said. His products also will be available at Vapor Geekz.

“There are so many people out there that smoke, and there’s a tremendous amount of difficulty in trying to quit and actually being able to conquer it,” Swick said. “Most people can’t actually do it, so something that simulates smoking, gives you the nicotine … something that could bring all those factors together would be the best alternative, and hopefully a reduced-harm alternative to smoking, which is really, I think, what people are looking for.”

Despite the success Carroll, Swick and others have had using e-cigarettes to kick the smoking habit, health professionals aren’t entirely convinced yet.

Kelly Viscosi, a physician’s assistant with Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, said she has patients who have quit smoking using e-cigarettes. However, she also has patients who are now trying to quit e-cigarettes.

“I don’t necessarily recommend them because they’re not FDA-regulated, so you don’t really know what’s in it,” Viscosi said. “However, I have some patients that have done very well on them on their own. One woman actually, it’s an anxiety issue for her, and she just needs the action of inhaling, just that action, and it’s worked for her.”

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday took a step toward regulation. The federal government wants to ban sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the FDA.

The agency said the proposal sets a foundation for regulating the products, but the rules don’t immediately ban the wide array of flavors of e-cigarettes, curb marketing on places like TV or set product standards.

The FDA said the public, members of the industry and others will have 75 days to comment on the proposal. The agency will evaluate those comments before issuing a final rule, but there’s no timetable for when that will happen.

Regulation is happening locally as well. Recently, Montgomery County banned e-cigarettes inside all county buildings.

Swick said he would embrace regulation of the e-cigarette industry as a way to legitimize it.

“All the indications are that these are going to be pragmatic, proactive regulations on the manufacturing of the product, that will really just put the industry in its next phase of legitimacy, where you won’t be able to – individuals working out of their own kitchens or garage or whatever won’t be ablet to put the liquid together; you’ll need the proper facility and the proper training and procedures,” he said.

According to Swick, the e-liquid contains four or five ingredients – propylene glycol, an oil used as a preservative in some foods and tobacco products; vegetable glycerin or glycol, which is found in cosmetics and food products; nicotine; and flavoring agents. Revolution Vapor currently sells more than 70 different flavors of e-liquid.

“You’re talking about maybe four or five different chemicals, versus whatever’s in cigarettes,” Swick said. “Common sense seems to indicate that it would be better for you than smoking, [but] we can’t make any of those claims.”

“There’s no combustion, there’s no by-products, it’s all vaporization,” said Joe Bittlingmaier, chief financial officer of Revolution Vapor. “There’s no noxious chemicals, there’s no tar, there’s nothing here that’s going to stick to anything, so it’s safe to use in an apartment.”

Overall, more research into the safety of the product and its ingredients is needed before any recommendations can be made, said Sue Cridland, registered nurse and community education director with Littauer.

“There are some that say this is a way that somebody can not be using tobacco and can be cutting down on their nicotine, but the other side of that, which I think people are really starting to think more about, is there’s something in there that’s heating up this liquid nicotine, so creating a vapor,” Cridland said. “And there are other chemicals that are mixed in with this that you’re then breathing in. None of it’s been tested, so they really don’t know if it’s safer or how much safer than using tobacco would be.”

Smoker’s Choice in Johnstown has sold e-cigarettes for more than three years. According to store employee Gina Bryan, the devices are not marketed at the store as a smoking cessation tool.

“They’re not a quit-smoking mechanism; they’re not made to quit smoking,” Bryan said. “But if you want to cut back to zero nicotine, eventually you’re body’s not going to crave that nicotine anymore. It’s more of a head [thing].”

Even those who say they’ve quit smoking using e-cigarettes haven’t really quit the nicotine, Bryan said.

“Your body is still getting that nicotine in your system, so as long as your body is still getting that nicotine, you’re actually not quitting,” Bryan said. “You’re not getting the chemicals and you’re not getting the tar into your system.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.