The honeymoon is over for electronic cigarettes. What was once a virtually unregulated new industry is coming under government scrutiny, as concerns mount over possible health risks.
The Food and Drug Administration wants to bring the vaporized nicotine devices under federal authority. In Georgia, a new state law bans e-cigarette sales to anyone under 18.
But that's not slowing down new e-cigarette businesses. In fact, so-called "vape bars" are popping up across the state.
Think of an e-cigarette and the image of a plastic cigarette probably comes to mind. But at Stormy’s Vapor Cellar in Macon, the hardware gets a little more complicated.
At the Vapor Cellar, customers over 18 years old can borrow a metal pen-shaped battery to screw onto small plastic vials filled with flavored liquid called “juice.” They plug in the battery, the liquid vaporizes, and they breathe.
David Pritchett is a former smoker who discovered vaping on the internet and started four years ago. A retired Xerox engineer, he likes all the gadgetry and mixology involved in vaping.
“Oh it’s a lifestyle,” said Pritchett. “It is, really.”
He says one advantage of vaping over smoking is that you can do it anywhere.
“I just left Kroger. Walked around all over the place and nobody paid attention. I don’t flaunt it, I don’t blow big clouds out, I kind of blow it downward.”
Like Pritchett, a lot of people who vape are trying to get nicotine fix without the harmful health effects of smoking. But for others, it’s about something else.
Kyle Paige works at Stormy’s, and has been vaping since 2013. He's never been a smoker and said he picked up vaping from his mom.
“I started vaping just because I had a stressful job before and I always told myself I wasn’t going to start smoking.”
Stress isn’t the only reason for Paige. He takes great pride in his device.
“I want to blow these huge clouds and I want to be able to show off with it.”
Stormy’s sort of feels like a wine cellar. But up the highway in Atlanta, the atmosphere at Vaperite is more like a lounge.
Customers sit at a bar with a restaurant-style menu. It has dozens of flavors like Organic Kettle Corn, Funky Monkey and Chocolate Strawberry.
A juicetender takes the orders, squirts the e-liquids into a bottle and labels it with a “born on” date.
Betty Mann of East Point samples a few flavors-- she’s looking to quit smoking.
“I’m fixing to put the Newports down,” she says.
This is actually her first time vaping.
“It feels lighter than a cigarette,” says Mann. “You know, when you inhale a cigarette, you get that strong, you know what I’m saying, nicotine. This right here is a little bit more smoother...I think I’m gonna go with this.”
Not all vaping juice contains nicotine. Mann's friend, Trina Clark, is health-conscious -- She's never smoked cigarettes and she uses organic juice with zero nicotine.
So what’s the point?
She does it, she says, for “the flavor and the calmness.”
Clark samples a mix of Dragon Fruit and Pomegranate. She says she picked up vaping from her two children-- neither of them were smokers either.