HIGHWOOD – When Sean West decided to open a vaping store, he first considered Chicago but nixed the idea because the city and Cook County both impose taxes on liquid containing nicotine. He then turned to Highland Park, but that didn’t work because City Council passed a Smoking Regulations Ordinance that forbids smoking areas in new businesses.
But Highwood has no regulations on e-cigarettes, and Lake County doesn’t impose an e-juice tax. So West opened North Shore Vapes in Highwood last November, joining other vape shops in the area including Vapor4Life in Northbrook and Island Smoke Vape Shop in Highland Park.
As the vaping trend grows, regulations are too. Like Highland Park, Deerfield, Lake Bluff and other municipalities have moved to regulate e-cigarettes. At the state level, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a new law on Jan. 29 that prohibits minors from possessing e-cigarettes and other tobacco-free nicotine products. And nationally, the Food & Drug Administration has proposed extending the agency’s authority to regulate e-cigarettes and other vaping products as tobacco products.
Meanwhile, organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association are concerned that the health effects of vaping are underestimated by the public.
“Switching from a traditional cigarette to an e-cigarette should not be a long-term solution,” according to the AHA, because “e-cigarettes are unregulated, may contain toxic chemicals and have not been FDA-approved as cessation devices.”
The American Lung Association’s Myths & Facts About E-Cigarettes states: “E-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2011 to 2013, and despite myths e-cigarettes do expose others to secondhand smoke. The aerosol (vapor) emitted by e-cigarettes and exhaled by users contains carcinogens, such as formaldehyde, according to early studies. Little is known about these emissions or the potential harm they can cause.”
West began smoking cigarettes when he was 14-years-old and has been vaping for almost six years. “I breathe better, smell better and my blood pressure is better,” he said. People have to vape responsibly, he added: “The devices are more harmful if you push it beyond the recommended use. You need to make sure that you use the products the way they’re intended to be used.”
Just what is “vaping?”
Vaping is the act of inhaling water vapor containing varying levels of nicotine or other substances through a personal vaporizer such as e-cigarettes, pipes, small tanks, and e-pens. Starter kits cost about $50, which include a tank (atomizer), battery charger, extra replacement glass and usually a spare coil.
Vapor retail sales were expected to reach $3.5 billion in 2015, according to Wells Fargo, with e-cigarette sales comprising $1.5 billion and vaporizing devices accounting for $2 billion. The market is expected to reach $10 billion by the end of 2018.
West said vaping devices allow people to significantly lower their nicotine consumption and enjoy vaping just for the flavor. “Fruity, custardy, creamy and breakfast-flavored juices are the most popular,” he said. “The devices are more harmful if you push it beyond the recommended use. You need to make sure that you use the products the way they’re intended to be used.”
North Shore Vapes is a small, sports-style bar and store near a fine dining establishment and currency exchange in a strip mall across from Fort Sheridan. It has a bar where customers can sit, talk and order vaping juices that are lined up on shelves along the wall. There’s also a seating area with a couch and lounge chairs facing a large screen TV over the bar. Customers can purchase vaping liquids as well as vaping equipment to consume on site or take away.
West said he is in full support of fair regulations. A sign stating the customers must be 18 to purchase tobacco and vaping products is displayed on the entrance to the store.
Highland Park Police Commander Jon Lowman said the city’s smoking regulations ordinance is designed to protect people from secondhand smoke or steam.
“The Highland Park Police Department is enforcing the use of e-cigarettes for 18-year-olds in the state of Illinois. An ordinance can’t loosen or be more permissive of state laws, but it can make it more restrictive. The range of fines goes from $100 to $750 with additional fines for repeated offenses.”
Lowman explained why West wasn’t allowed to open a vapes shop in Highland Park last year.
“According to the City of Highland Park’s Smoking Regulations Ordinance, if a store has been in existence since before 2005, they can have a designated smoking area, like a glassed-in room away from everyone,” said Lowman. “After that period it is not allowed. It would have to have been grandfathered in.”