The e-cigarette industry is expected to reach $1 billion within the next few years, far surpassing its current estimated $300 million in retail revenue, according to Wells Fargo's Tobacco Talk research.
With Marlboro's maker Altria also launching its first electronic cigarette in August, the industry is growing — not just nationwide, but especially in Oklahoma.
OKC Vapes owners Stephanie and John Durst estimate at least 40 retail locations operate in Oklahoma, a vast difference compared to other states that typically have just two or three of these stores, John Durst said.
The Dursts said they're seeing electronic cigarette retailers, or “vape shops,” popping up all over the city.
“You look at our business and see how well we do, a lot of people right now are trying to get in on that,” Stephanie Durst said.
In addition to retail stores growing in the city, there's also the Oklahoma Vapers Club, which gathers once a month as a community of store owners and users. People get enthusiastic about switching to the devices and attending conventions, the owners said.
The electronic cigarette business has also spawned other service businesses, like Community Bar and Vape Lounge, positioned as a place for vape users to go for a refill when the regular shops are closed.
Co-owner King Keely also noticed a boom in similar businesses around the metro, but isn't worried about the competition.
“The proliferation is also making everyone have to come down on price,” he said.
Community imports their juice in from a mixologist and friend in California, where Keely says the vaping trend is much more prominent.
Perhaps the No. 1 draw for smokers is the ability to choose, according to John Durst. Electronic cigarette users can choose from not only a range of flavors — from spearmint to butterscotch — but also a range in nicotine levels.
Depending on the amount a person smokes per day, the amount of nicotine they'll use in their device can vary from 6 mg to 26 mg. There are even options of zero nicotine for those who may have quit smoking, but still want the sensation, John Durst said.
Currently, regulation and taxation on these products is not widespread.
While the e-cigarette is still a young product, federal regulation is minimal so most regulation is taking place at the state or local levels, according to the Wells Fargo research.
“We think e-cigarettes are more than just a fad; however, we expect increased regulatory scrutiny and taxation of the products in time,” according to the survey.
In the Oklahoma legislature, House Bill 2097 was recently voted down, but would have addressed taxation issues for nicotine delivery products like electronic cigarettes.
Other legislation deals with selling age restriction on these products, like SB 802, which would set the limit at age 18. The bill would also set a five-cent tax on the products.
Despite of any impending federal or state regulation, industry members say electronic cigarettes are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Wells Fargo's research reports at least 2.5 million users of the devices.
A further 43.8 million people are estimated to be smokers in the U.S., so the market is widespread.
OKC Vapes, which has been in business since June 2011, isn't concerned about fading away.
As Stephanie Durst said, “There's plenty of smokers, there's enough to go around.”