Brunswick business pins hope on popularity of 'vaping'

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BRUNSWICK — While cigarette smokers looking to kick their tobacco habit are finding hope in the movement called “vaping,” a new downtown business hopes to help them along.

Portland residents Chantile and Lester Lacombe opened Coastal Fog Vapors recently at 52 Maine St. The store is only one of two vape shops in Maine that complies with Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association guidelines; their primary purpose is to help customers cease use of combustible tobacco products.

Vaping is often confused with the use of all electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigs,” but there are two very different categories. The types of e-cigs sold at gas stations, for example, are owned by big tobacco companies and typically lack the quality and regulation that a shop like Coastal Fog offers in its products.

“Electronic cigarettes at gas stations contain very high nicotine levels.” Lester explained about the mixture (called e-liquid), which when heated produces vapor to mimic the act of smoking.

While vaporizers at Coastal Fog do contain nicotine, the goal is to wean customers off completely off the drug.

“We start at 12 milligrams of nicotine and go down from there.” Lester said. In comparison, gas station e-cigs contain up to 36 milligrams of nicotine in their e-liquid, he said.

Under SFATA regulations, premium e-liquid vapor contains only four or five ingredients, all individually FDA approved. In addition, Coastal Fog’s products are manufactured in the United States.

“These come directly from the manufacturers,” Lester said, gesturing at the neat display of vapes in the shop. “They’re not clones from China.” Another difference is the reusable aspect of vaporizers, as opposed to other e-cigs made overseas, which are disposable.

Coastal Fog’s products are also more expensive than the gas-station variety: starter kits range from $20-$60, and some premium models can cost more than $200.

Lester said he was a smoker for 25 years when he decided to make the change.

“At first it was about affordability,” he said, “but then I started reaping the benefits of not smoking.” He’s been smoke-free for a year.

Chantile said she enjoys the interaction with the store’s customers.

“I just enjoy talking with people,” she said, “There’s a broad spectrum of what people want to talk about, from the science of the products, to politics, to the law.”

Indeed, vaping is becoming a hot topic for lawmakers and health officials.

Ed Miller, senior vice president for public policy at the American Lung Association in Augusta, said he  worries about the popularity of vaping among teenagers.

“We don’t want kids who are addicted to nothing becoming addicted to something,” he said during a phone interview in February.

Miller also relayed information gathered from a National Youth Tobacco Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found the number of young people who never smoked traditional cigarettes, but started using electronic cigarettes, has skyrocketed from 80,000 to 260,000 since the vaporizing devices became available.

Also in February, Bethany Sandborn, of the Public Health Division in the Portland Health and Human Services Department, voiced her distress about vaping’s increasing presence in the market.

“Customers don’t know how much nicotine they’re getting,” she said, “or exactly what they’re inhaling through the vapor.”

Miller and Sandborn also said they are concerned about the lack of regulation and inconclusive research about the long-term effects of vaping.

“The public deserves to know how (e-cigs) affect them. It’s a matter of giving the public the right information,” Miller said.

The Lacombes believe legislation is trying to classify vaping in too broad a stroke. “This isn’t an appropriate industry to use catch-alls,” Lester said, “It is holding people back from reaching this smoke-free alternative.”

Chantile said one customer replaced his ash tray at home with an e-cig starter kit. “When his friends go over,” she said, “they can vape instead of stinking up his house with cigarette smoke.”

Sidebar Elements

Owners Lester, left, and Chantile Lacombe at Coastal Fog on Maine Street in Brunswick, where they sell high-end smoke-free vaporizing devices, also known as electronic cigarettes.

Vape devices, also know as electronic cigarettes, at Coastal Fog in Brunswick.

Coastal Fog is at 52 Maine St. in Brunswick, next door to Frosty’s Donuts.