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New York and Chicago are the first big cities in the U.S. to propose tightening regulations around electronic cigarettes. Opponents say e-cigarettes are as dangerous as regular cigarettes. Supporters say they are a smoke-free alternative to tobacco.
Either way, electronic cigarettes are growing in popularity and shops are popping up to serve so-called “vapers.” From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Elizabeth Fiedler of WHYY takes us to a newly-opened “vape” lounge in Philadelphia.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. It's HERE AND NOW.
New York and Chicago are the first big U.S. cities to consider tighter regulation of electronic cigarettes. Opponents say e-cigs are as dangerous as regular cigarettes, but supporters say they are a smoke-free alternative to tobacco. Either way, electronic cigarettes are growing in popularity and shops are popping up to serve so-called vapers. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WHYY's Elizabeth Fiedler takes us to a newly opened vape lounge in Philadelphia.
ELIZABETH FIEDLER, BYLINE: Raymond Ross is sitting in Love Vape, a new Philadelphia shop tucked between a Chinese restaurant and a T-Mobile store in Center City.
RAYMOND ROSS: We're not a smoke shop. We're a vape shop. We deal primarily with electronic cigarettes that uses an e-liquid.
FIEDLER: Like other vape shops, this place isn't just a store. It has a lounge with a row of seating along a wall just a few feet from the retail space. Ross says outside these walls there's a lot of misunderstanding about e-cigarettes. In Philadelphia, e-cigarettes do not fall under the city's indoor smoking ban, which applies to traditional cigarettes and cigars. Here, Ross says, vapers are among friends.
ROSS: You don't have to be alone with vaping. This is kind of like a haven for vapers.
FIEDLER: Ross is a co-owner of the shop. He says when it comes to e-cigarettes, vapers have their choice of flavors. But...
ROSS: Pretty much all e-cigarettes work the same way. There's some type of battery component with some type of tank set-up and also a coil and a wick. And you inhale the vapor.
FIEDLER: For some, taking up e-cigarettes becomes a hobby, complete with lingo and the possibility of spending big money to get fancy stuff. For others, like Philadelphian Michael Fisher(ph), it's a way to quit a bad habit.
MICHAEL FISHER: I needed to get off of cigarettes, what vapers call analogs.
FIEDLER: Fisher says he started vaping about a year ago. Patches and gum failed to help him quit smoking traditional cigarettes, but he says e-cigarettes are working for him.
FISHER: I'm not really one of those commando vapers. I'm not looking to start any conflicts over it. But in general, even my bosses at my job have accepted it and they allow me to vape in my office while I'm working.
FIEDLER: Recent research from New Zealand suggests electronic cigarettes appear to be at least as effective as nicotine patches in helping people kick the habit. But health experts here in the States point out that e-cigarettes are not an FDA-approved method for those who want to quit smoking traditional cigarettes.
ERIKA SWARD: The use of e-cigarettes in general is completely unregulated. It's like the wild, wild West out there and there's no sheriff in town.
FIEDLER: The American Lung Association's Erika Sward says the regulation of e-cigarettes in public places varies wildly. In some states and cities, it's OK to use an e-cigarette in a bar, restaurant or store. In other places, local politicians have passed laws restricting their use. Sward says a lot is not known about e-cigarettes.
SWARD: When FDA did an initial study of the components in this liquid that people are inhaling into their lungs, they found some of the same toxic ingredients that you see in antifreeze. They also found that the ones claiming not to have nicotine actually did.
FIEDLER: Many in the health field say they wonder if e-cigarettes are harmful not just for those who use them, but for those around them. Sward says with so many outstanding questions about the short and long-term health consequences, FDA oversight is needed. Back at Love Vape, Raymond Ross says he wanted to open this place to help Philly get in on the trend.
ROSS: Kind of introduce the East Coast to the vape movement. It's been really big out in the West Coast.
FIEDLER: A proposal to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product is under consideration at the federal level. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Elizabeth Fiedler in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.