WEST JEFFERSON-While different viewpoints abound on electronic cigarettes and vaping, Mason Harris believes the smoking alternative has allowed him to reclaim his health – and take advantage of a lucrative business venture at the same time.
Harris, a former public accountant and comptroller, was once a two-pack a day smoker who was looking to kick the habit not only for the sake of his lungs, but also to alleviate the pangs endured by his wallet.
“I quit smoking three years ago by vaping,” said Harris as he took a long drag of vanilla cream from his rig. “I was spending $70 week just on cigarettes, so I got out of that and started vaping and I just loved it. I grew to have a passion for vaping.”
And Harris isn’t alone.
Vaping is a trend that has exploded in recent years. Proponents uses electronic devices to vaporize liquid solutions – most contain flavorings, glycerine, propylene glycol and sometimes nicotine – as a high-tech way to simulate smoking.
Industry sales have grown from nearly nothing a decade ago to more than $2 billion in 2014, according to Wells Fargo analysts, and sales are projected to reach some $10 billion annually by 2017.
Those are numbers that open up opportunity for entrepreneurs like Harris.
Harris met Mary Kay Rodgers, the original owner of the Joy of Vaping in West Jefferson, and began working part-time in the establishment. With her retirement quickly approaching, Harris bought the store and gave a new breath of life to the business.
“We were blessed,” he said. “It just happened. It was God’s will at the same time. I love to do this and I want to get people off cigarettes.”
Harris estimates that 30 percent of his operation is geared toward relieving customers of their cigarette dependency.
“I have to say that I, personally, enjoy vaping more than I ever did cigarettes,” said Mason. “Not only does it taste better, but for instance here, I have 162 different flavors in my shop. I have everything from fruit flavors to creams, to custards to cereals with milk. It’s such a wide variety and it will take care of anyone’s palette.”
And it’s not just former smokers who like to blow the dark blue and gray co-co puffs clouds of vapor.
While his customer base touches nearly every demographic in the county, Harris said he has sizeable clientele that forgo the vape juices that include nicotine. He said those people vape because they enjoy the taste and ritual that has grown around the movement.
Harris counts himself among that group.
“I even have men in their mid 70s that come in and buy vape juice from me,” said Harris.
He trumpets purported health benefits of switching from cigarettes to vaping among the strongest selling points for stores like his.
“I honestly feel so much better than I have in 30 years,” said Mason as he exhaled. “When you start doing this you breath better, obviously. You get your sense of taste back again. You find out things you use to like aren’t really that great. You also find out hot sauce…is really hot.”
He also said he wants to dispel some of the myths surrounding the industry and is quick to point out that nothing has happened to him or his customers. He said he’s convinced vaping is the safest alternative to smoking.
While there is some evidence to support that contention, there are really no long-term studies that can definitively say vaping or e-cigarettes is safer than smoking.
“The data on health effects to date, studied primarily in healthy people with short-term exposure, reveal little or no evidence of severe adverse events,” according to the American Heart Association.
And for the first time ever, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it will now regulate e-cigarettes in the same way it does traditional cigarettes.
That will mean a new set of regulations for companies like Joy of Vaping.
Companies won’t be able to sell e-cigarettes to minors and they’ll have to check ID’s for proof of age, for instance. The new rules, which will take effect in 90 days, also require manufacturers of products that have been sold since Feb. 15, 2007, to submit their products to for FDA approval – a potentially costly process.
Still, Harris said that vaping is safe as long as users apply a little common sense to the hobby.
“The only thing you see that is negative about vaping is on the Internet of Facebook,” he said. “It’s where people aren’t using common sense to build their vape. Not everyone has to build them, but that’s where the accidents happen and people get hurt.”
Joy of Vaping is located at 911 South Jefferson Ave. in West Jefferson. You can reach them at (336) 846-8273 or on Facebook.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.