MORRIS – Alex Grissom of Marseilles wants no part of smoking and struggles to understand why anyone would purposely inhale the tar and chemicals found in cigarettes.
As he explains his position on cigarette smoking, a large plume of what looks like white smoke emits from his mouth. But it’s actually vapor escaping from his lips. He is one of many who uses an atomizer to vape.
“I never started smoking cigarettes because I didn’t want the added chemicals and tar,” he said. “I have no desire to ever smoke a cigarette.”
To vape, a user will pull from a mouthpiece at the top of an electronic cigarette or atomizer, which vaporizes liquid that can contain nicotine. E-cigarettes are thought not have the carcinogenic impact of smoking tobacco.
Grissom said knowing what is in vaping liquid makes him comfortable inhaling it. Vaping uses a liquid made up typically of four ingredients: propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, food grade flavoring, liquid nicotine and water that gets vaporized in a battery-powered atomizer.
The vape scene has seen a steady increase since the introduction of e-cigarettes, and been more prominent locally since September when two vapor stores opened in Morris – 24 Vapor Vape Shop and Starved Rock Vapor.
The opening of vapor stores gives those interested in modified atomizers a place to go and talk shop, try new flavors and learn about what is available, instead of just picking up a pack at a gas station.
Morris Mayor Richard Kopczick said the two stores are offering a product and service that was previously available locally, but these two shops’ sole focus is on the atomizers and the e-liquid.
“I think as more people become aware of what vaping is and how it can be used, we’ll see even more vapers in this area,” said Tanner Barra, an employee at Starved Rock Vapor in Morris.
Barra said while some people still use the initial disposable e-cigarette, many more are using newer devices such as rebuildable dripping atomizers, rebuildable tank atomizers and mechanical mods so they can better control what goes into their bodies.
“A majority of the e-cigarettes that came out initially were made by cigarette companies, and you didn’t know what was in there or how much nicotine you were getting with each drag,” Barra said. “With the devices we sell, and are most common today, you are able to adjust what you get both in flavor and in nicotine.”
A tool to stop smoking
Barra was a two-pack-a-day smoker when he found himself without a job and needing to curb his expensive habit.
“I started using the basic e-cigarette just to save money,” he said.
As the industry changed and new devices came out, and once Barra had a job, he started trying the new devices, which gave him more control over the amount of nicotine he was getting.
The nicotine levels can vary from 0 milligrams to 24 milligrams, depending on the user’s choice of e-liquid or juice, as it is referred to by the vaping community.
Today Barra smokes primarily liquids that have three milligrams of nicotine, far less than what he was getting from two packs a day.
“There is 36 milligrams of nicotine, plus paper and chemicals, in a cigarette,” he said. “Depending on how much you vape a day you can get three times less nicotine than a normal full cigarette.”
He has been vaping for a year now and no longer smokes cigarettes, as he much prefers the fruity flavors offered in vaping to the taste of a regular cigarette.
“My advice to anyone trying to use vapes to stop smoking is to get through the first four days. When you have the urge to smoke, vape instead,” he said. “After the fourth day if you pick up a cigarette you will only take one or two drags before throwing it out. It tastes horrible.”
Grissom said when he started vaping, he had no idea it would give him the added benefit of weight loss – which he also credits to the various available flavors.
“I’ve lost 30 pounds since I started vaping,” he said. “I didn’t expect that, but with the sweet flavors, I find my cravings for sweets are not there.”
Searching for juice online finds all kinds of sweet-treat inspired flavors, such as key lime pie and holiday pumpkin spice cake from Baked Vapes, and banana creme pie and rocky road from Palm Beach Vapors.
Starved Rock Vapors even offers cereal-inspired flavors that mimic Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks.
But regulators and some taxing bodies are taking a look at the rapidly growing use of electronic cigarettes and considering the health impact of vaping.
In August 2014, the Illinois General Assembly amended the Illinois Poison Prevention Packaging Act to mandate all electronic cigarette cartridges and liquids sold and marketed be in special packaging.
On Jan. 1, Illinois also started enforcing a law that all e-cigarettes and vapor products must be kept behind store counters in an age-restricted area or in a sealed display case. In 2013 Illinois passed a law restricting sales to those over 18.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan three weeks ago joined attorneys general from 33 states calling for tighter federal regulations over electronic cigarettes to protect children and young adults from nicotine addiction.
Madigan’s office, in a news release, urged action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, calling for child-resistant packaging and warning labels “similar to the labels on other tobacco products.” Such regulations already exist in Illinois.
“Nicotine is harmful no matter how it is consumed,” Madigan said in a statement, “and e-cigarettes should come with warnings about its dangers.”
But vaping and nicotine aren’t always synonymous. Grissom pointed out most of the e-liquid he uses contains none. As someone who never smoked, he isn’t looking for liquid flavors that contain nicotine.
Kopczick said he understands some people are leery of what they perceive to be a new thing, but it’s not the city’s job to police morality.
The city hasn’t received any more business license applications for vape shops, according to Kopczick.
He said the city will not put a limit on the number that can open in Morris, just like it doesn’t put a limit on the number of stores that can sell cigarettes.
• Shaw Media reporter Bob Okon contributed to this report.