In the few short years since technology yielded devices that can deliver nicotine without the dangers of carcinogens, small business owners all over the country have gotten into the e-cigarette — or vaping — business.
The growing demand for these e-cigs and the liquid that goes in them has spawned a thriving industry. According to thevapormap.com, which utilizes data from Google maps, there are 229 vape shops and lounges in Florida.
Some might say that vaping is part of a new social cultural trend.
But this new, fast-growing market already faces an attack. Right now, the Florida legislature is considering House Bill 1143, sponsored by Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa). The bill will amend the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act by categorizing vaping as smoking. The bill does not provide an exception for vape shops and lounges.
This re-identification will ban vaping indoors in public facilities such as restaurants and bars, likely on the grounds that, like secondhand smoke, vaping is harmful to bystanders. (Rep. Harrison did not return requests for comment.)
But vaping’s proponents disagree with this assumption. They argue that numerous articles and studies have found that the vapor from these devices is essentially harmless to bystanders.
In a May 2015 article in Popular Science magazine, toxicologist Maciej Goniewicz says that tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals, 60 of which are known carcinogens. “In vapor, we find just a few of these, at much lower levels,” Goniewicz says. The article also quotes occupational health expert Igor Burstyn as saying that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, which has stated that more study is needed to determine if vaping is harmful to bystanders, is “being overcautious.”
Fans also say that vaping offers a healthier and less toxic alternative to smoking tobacco and that, in recent years, many cigarette users have turned to vaping to help them quit smoking.
On no-smoke.org, Dominic Palazzolo agrees vaping can be a less harmful alternative to smoking. “Vaping could be a ‘harm reduction’ alternative to smoking and a possible means for smoking cessation, at least to the same degree as other Food & Drug Administration-approved nicotine replacement therapies,” he writes.
Before he started vaping, Sean Reynosa, co-owner of Speakeasy Vaporium in Fernandina Beach, was a heavy smoker.
“Out of nowhere, my longtime friend Jason Hambrecht bought me a vape starter kit and said he was going to save my life,” Reynosa says. “I feel he did just that.”
Reynosa admits that his first week without nicotine was no walk in the park, but he persevered, continuing to use zero-mg vaping liquid, which is vapor with no nicotine.
“Eventually, I coughed up a golf-ball-size of what can only be explained as 20 years of lung gunk. Literally, a golf-ball-size of hard phlegm and black-like substance. It was shockingly foul. It brought me to the edge of tears thinking about the abuse I had put my body through. I felt shame, but also an overwhelming sense of thanks to have been introduced to vaping,” Reynosa says.
Reynosa and Hambrecht subsequently opened Speakeasy Vaporium together. Today there’s a petition on the shop’s counter, the Florida Petition for Smoke-Free Vaping Rights, asking people to oppose HB 1143. Their fear, shared by many in the vaping industry, is that the amendment will put them out of business. To them, this legislation is tantamount to an unjust smothering of a legitimate industry.
Fernandina Beach Mayor Johnny Miller tells Folio Weekly Magazine, “HB 1143 is yet another overreaching act from Tallahassee and restrictive to our local small business. Let the industry police themselves. Business will dictate the success or failure of this technology.”
If HB 1143 passes (it is currently in committee), it will only be legal to vape in the same places that is currently legal to smoke cigarettes. Unless the public and other industry advocates get involved, this legislation may very well be the kiss of death for vaping lounges.