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Small Business in a Big Market: Smoque Vapours

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A thick cloud of vapor pours out of his mouth after inhaling off the electronic cigarette that’s attached to a low, modern-looking table filled with vials of different flavors of e-liquids.

Sam Gendell, a former pack-per-day smoker and a new customer to one of Chicago’s e-cigarette stores called Smoque Vapours, started using the reusable e-cigarettes sold at the Lakeview storefront because it’s more cost-effective, he said.

“When you just need to replace the atomizers and juice, it’s minimal cost comparatively speaking,” the freelance artist and writer said when comparing them to disposable e-cigarettes.

Smoque Vapours is one of two e-cigarette stores Jared Yucht owns and runs. What makes his store unique is the e-liquids he sells. Each of these is mixed in his store using his own recipe, developed from online research.

“I just started checking out the online forums and seeing what people were doing,” he said, adding he purchased only high-quality ingredients because, “if I’m putting it into my body, I want it to be good.”

Starting out in his own basement next to the washer, dryer and the kitty litter, Yucht began mixing different e-liquid recipes. After a year he decided to open his own business. Since then, he has hired a lab technician to create his e-liquids in a sterile environment.

“We do everything in a way that we feel if there were regulations, that we wouldn’t have any problems. That’s one of the main reasons why I opened the store, was that I wanted to do things the right way,” he said.

Because there is no federal regulation, distributors can make and sell e-liquids and e-cigarettes at their will. Only some states and cities stepping in to regulate their sales.

The debate about how to regulate e-cigarettes is heating up with Chicago aldermen voting to regulate e-cigarettes like regular cigarettes in a regular council meeting earlier this month.

Some argue because there is no proof these products are safe in the long-run, they shouldn’t be on the market. Others, like Yucht, believe they are the safer alternative to cigarettes and are hesitant about how regulation will affect business.

And others, in the medical community, have concerns about this lack of regulation, including Kathy Drea, vice president of Advocacy for the Upper Midwest section of the American Lung Association.

Drea said without regulation, there is no way of knowing what companies are putting into their e-liquids. Some studies have shown that e-cigarette labels falsely state what it included in their e-liquids, including inaccurate levels of nicotine.

Yucht said he had heard of these concerns and that others worry ingredients like antifreeze are being put into e-liquids.

“Well I make it, and I gotta tell you: There’s no way I’m putting antifreeze in it,” he said.

His recipe includes the four ingredients: propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, liquid nicotine based in propylene glycol and all-natural food flavorings, some of which he creates on his own, he said. He added that all the ingredients he uses are approved by the FDA. And although Yucht self-regulates his e-liquids, other companies might not be as careful as this Chicago business owner.

So why would anyone be against regulation?

Elaine Keller, president of the The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, shed some light on the issue, stating that federal regulation would lead to a “de facto ban” because it takes years and costs billions of dollars to regulate and approve a product.

“Joe’s Vape shop doesn’t have that kind of money and certainly can’t go without revenue for several years,” she said in an emailed statement. “When a product is going through the FDA’s NDA [New Drug Application] process, it cannot be sold.”

T.J. McAlmond, a 31-year-old Rogers Park resident who has been using the e-cigarette for three weeks to quit smoking, said he thought e-cigarettes have been very effective for him because he is a former pack-per-day smoker. But, he felt regulation was important.

“If they are going to regulate it in any way, a) just make sure you know exactly what’s going into the liquid and b) it should be like a cigarette,” McAlmond said. “If you’re 18 years of age and an adult, you should be able to buy it just like a cigarette.”

And Yucht agrees. So, he only sells to adults over 18 and allows anyone to see the mixing process so they can see what goes into the e-liquids.

Until the FDA releases their recommendations about how e-cigarettes should be regulated and more testing has been done, Yucht will continue to run his business the best way he sees fit: by refusing sales to minors, making his own e-liquids and being open about his e-liquid mixing process.

Back in the front of the store, Gendell is trying new flavors. He said he has found a better alternative to the disposable e-cigarettes found at gas stations to help him quit smoking.

“I came in here, and the staff was very helpful and knowledgeable,” he said. “It seemed like a decent way to go about it.”

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