WARNER ROBINS -- This month, Joseph Lindsey started a business mixing and selling e-liquid, a batch of chemicals thats heated in electronic cigarettes and transformed into vapor that users inhale.
They only contain about five different chemicals as opposed to the 2,000 to 4,000 chemicals that normal cigarettes contain, he said.
Lindsey, 28, said he mixes propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine with liquid nicotine and artificial flavoring to produce different e-liquid flavors. He currently sells 48 different mixes and supplies several local shops.
He said he supports Thursdays news that U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials have proposed extending the agencys authority over the electronic cigarette industry. Lindsey said he labels his products to let people know they contain nicotine, and he does not sell to minors.
The point of using electronic cigarettes is not to hook children, Lindsey said, but rather to get people using normal cigarettes to switch over to what he considers a healthier alternative.
The consumer demand in Middle Georgia for e-cigarette devices and supplies is growing, according to several local vendors. They echoed Lindsey and said they view increased regulation of e-cigarette companies as a good thing.
Cody Miller, 21, manned the counter Thursday afternoon at Cigar and Hookah Outlet on Russell Parkway in Warner Robins. In 30 minutes, he sold an e-cigarette starter kit to one customer, a bottle of e-liquid to a second and set up a third with a hookah in the shops lounge.
Most days, Miller works the shop thats owned by his mother and stepfather. He said he sells at least 100 e-cigarette starter kits every month and feels good about helping people discover the products.
Theres just no way that it could be more harmful than cigarettes, he said. We feel very good that people are coming in here, quitting smoking, asking our opinion and trusting us that were going to do the right thing for them.
Advocates say e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative because they dont have tobacco tar or smoke.
Besides being healthier, Miller said, e-cigarettes save former cigarette smokers money.
Most people average one bottle of e-liquid per week when they used to smoke multiple packs of cigarettes per day, he said.
In another shop on Russell Parkway, Regan Pepples, 30, picked up a 10-milliliter bottle of e-liquid she said will last her about two weeks. She made the switch to e-cigarettes eight weeks ago after 14 years of smoking tobacco.
The flavor is better, she said of the e-cigarette. I usually get the strawberry kind or bubblegum. Now Ive noticed my breathing is better when I work out.
Pepples doesnt think she will go back to smoking cigarettes. She supports the FDA increasing regulation in the industry.
To have a more consistent product, I think regulation is good, she said.
A growing subculture
Stormys Vapor Cellar in north Macon is different from conventional smoke shops. The space is decorated with country home details: barrel tables, fruit and wine print rugs and warm wallpaper. Employees are well-groomed and wear collared shirts with the company logo.
A lot of the shops customers are in their 40s, 50s and 60s, said Carolyn Maurer, one of the shops managing partners.
We didnt want them coming in thinking they were in a head shop, she said. We wanted them to feel that they were in a professional atmosphere.
Maurer started vaping, or smoking electronic cigarettes, in 2005, before brick and mortar stores began selling the supplies.
She became a hobbyist, designing and building her own device. In an attempt to sell her modified e-cigarette, she started a website that ultimately led her to open her own business.
Now her shop encourages other hobbyists through a large inventory and a work station for people to assemble their e-cigarettes with the help of staff.
Two weeks ago, Stormys Vapor Cellar opened a second location, this one in Warner Robins.
Our immediate plans are to open yet another store by the end of 2014, Maurer said.
To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 256-9751.