WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Electronic and vapor cigarette products take up – for now – two small display spaces when compared with racks of traditional cigarettes sold at Blue Ridge Tobacco and Candle Outlet, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
But operators of the store on Cloverdale Avenue are convinced, by measuring growing consumer demand and traffic flow, that the reverse could be true by the end of the decade – if not sooner.
One accommodation toward that reality, according to store manager Nancy Hardy, is that the store chain has created a separate accounting ring-up for e-cigs and for vapor products.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution in a disposable, closed cartridge and create a vapor that is inhaled.
Vapor products can feature a liquid capsule that is inserted into an open-fill cartridge. Vapors, at least for now, offer consumers a wider variety of flavor options.
“We’re gaining more sales and more profit from these products every day,” Hardy said as she takes turn smoking examples of disposable and rechargeable e-cig cartridges and vaporizers.
“There is the challenge of getting smokers to go beyond trying to sticking with it, but more seem to feel healthier from using these products,” Hardy said. After pausing for a few seconds, she added, “Not that we’re advertising that benefit by any means.”
The cost of a rechargeable e-cig cartridge and vaporizer can range from $30 to $70, while the nicotine liquids tend to range from $6 to $8.50. It’s hard to estimate a price equivalence to a pack of cigarettes because it depends largely how hard a user draws the nicotine liquid per puff.
Hardy said e-cigs seem to appeal to traditional cigarette smokers who want a product that tastes like a regular or menthol cigarette – even though Lorillard Inc.’s blu eCigs subsidiary offers vanilla, cherry crush, java jolt, pina colada and peach schnapps.
R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co. is sticking with tobacco and menthol flavoring, said Susan Cameron, chief executive and president of parent company Reynolds American Inc.
“Those individuals just want a taste and a feel that is as close to a traditional cigarette as they can get,” Hardy said.
When it comes to the vaporizers, Blue Ridge sells a small sample of what has proven to be a Wild Wild West of flavored nicotine liquids.
For example, the store sells 27 flavors from Ecto, which makes domestically nicotine liquids that range in potency from 24, 18, 12 and 6 milligrams of nicotine to no milligrams.
Anti-tobacco advocates and some Democratic congressional leaders have decried nicotine liquids with flavoring that resembles gummy bears, bubble gum, fruits, candies and mixed alcoholic drinks. They say those flavors encourage consumption from teen consumers – part of their push to get the Food and Drug Administration to act quicker on setting regulations.
Hardy said Ecto recently renamed some of their flavors, possibly to avoid trademark infringement issues, from Snickers to chocolate bar and from Sweetish fish to sweet fishies.
The store also sells Pfoom products, which is testing a device that vaporizes real tobacco in a tiny pod.
Frank Armstrong, the store’s owner, said he carries nicotine liquid for suppliers in which he is comfortable with the ingredients.
Hardy said that even thought the FDA in the very early stages of reviewing e-cigs and vapor products for potential safety issues, consumers already are asking what in their inventory is FDA approved.
They also ask about when the products will be taxed by the state. If the state Senate approves the House omnibus tax bill, a tax of 5 cents a milliliter will be applied to the nicotine liquid mixture. If the bill is signed into law, and Gov. Pat McCrory said Friday that he would do that, the excise tax would go into effect Feb. 1.
By comparison, a pack of traditional cigarettes has an excise tax of 45 cents a pack, one of the lowest in the country.
The potential that e-cigs and vapors have reducing harm from tobacco products had Jennifer Barker trying different models at the store.
A smoker for 19 years, typically the Camel Menthol style, Barker said she has been smoking an e-cig for about two months. Her favorite is mixing the chocolate bar and menthol flavors.
She said she has cut down from 20 cigarette sticks a day to two to three while also smoking the e-cig.
“I’ve tried the nicotine replacement therapy, the prescription medicine, the patch, and nothing has worked,” Barker said.
“From what I’m sensing so far, I think not only will I be able to cut down on my nicotine consumption, but end it and eventually quit cigarettes altogether.
“Smoking has been a crutch and the vaporizer is now a crutch. It’s just been hard, but I hope to have a handle on quitting now.”