Cousins Melissa Bennett and Christie Watson were both smokers before trying e-cigarettes, or “vaping” to curb their nicotine cravings.
Bennett and Watson both say that vaping has helped them quit smoking cigarettes. They've also turned the hobby into a full-time business.
Along with Debbie Patton, Bennett and Watson co-own The Vapor Hut, a e-cigarette supply business that has grown to five stores in two states and 35 employees in less than two years.
Watson, who also struggled with asthma, was tired of smoking, but had trouble quitting until she discovered she could get the same nicotine fix she got from a cigarette from inhaling flavored vegetable glycerin from battery-powered cigarettes.
“I was using my inhaler just so I could smoke another cigarette — I know that it's bad,” she said.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said that most of the chemical compounds used in e-cigarettes are generally safe, little long-term data on the health effects of e-cigarettes has been collected.
Still, Bennett said she and Watson believe that vaping is better for them than smoking cigarettes, and they want The Vapor Hut to help introduce vaping to other smokers as well.
“Our hair and clothes smell better; our skin looks better,” Bennett said. “I started to realize that I didn't miss smoking.”
Making the juice
Bennett was soon experimenting with mixing different liquid flavorings for e-cigarettes — called e-juice or simply juice by those who vape.
The juices are made from a mixture of nicotine, vegetable glycerin, flavoring and propylene glycol, which is a compound commonly used as a preservative in many processed foods.
After the first Vapor Hut store opened in Midwest City in February 2012, the business has expanded to four locations in the metro area, with an additional shop in Mobile, Ala. The Vapor Hut is in the process of opening a second shop in Mobile in the coming months.
“We were stay-at-home moms, and now we've made a business out of it,” Bennett said.
Vapor Hut also has a local laboratory and warehouse where the business makes about 120 different flavors of e-cigarette juices, which the company also sells on its website.
Minors not welcome
Vapor Hut's customers range in age from 18 to 85, Watson said. She said she has seen vaping help an 85-year-old woman with chronic lung disease stop smoking.
“I've seen vaping help a lot of people get off cigarettes — it feels good to be part of an industry like this because it is so exciting right now.”
Although it's not yet illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors in Oklahoma, signs on the doors of all Vapor Hut locations warn that no one under the age of 18 may enter the stores.
State Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, has announced plans to introduce a bill in the Legislature in February that would ban e-cigarette product sales to minors in the state. The Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives also held a joint study session on Wednesday on the regulation of e-cigarettes.
“We know that it is probably coming and we want to be ready for that change in the law,” Bennett said.