Durham boasts first NH electronic cigarette store

By Tom Spencer
On February 18, 2014

EliteVapor NH on 7 Jenkins Court is the first business of its kind in the entire state. The store, which held its grand opening on Oct. 12, 2013, offers electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes as their primary business model. These items were once only available in New Hampshire as experimental products in tobacco, or novelty shops. 

Greg Hadley is a sales clerk at EliteVapor NH, and a UNH alumnus. He graduated with a degree in political science last year. Hadley has been smoking cigarettes since he was 15. He has been using electronic vapor products, or "vaping" since October 2013. The owner of the Durham store provided him with a free starter kit, and Hadley enthusiastically promoted the product with public use. He was hired soon after winter break.

"We've got a loyal base of people who publicize us by word of mouth," Hadley said. "Every day we get someone new in here to check the place out."

The owners are unconcerned about the high turnover rate in small businesses Jenkins Court has seen in past years.

Despite the strong movement against cigarettes and nicotine products in America over the past few years, Hadley and the store's manager Kyle Vickers were confident about the future of their business, a model that has already seen significant success on the West Coast.

"We've had a warm welcome from the Seacoast community," Hadley said. 

Hadley turned to assist two male students who had entered the store. After trying some free samples, one sprung for a starter kit and a few bottles of flavored juice. They said they had heard about a new e-cigarette shop in town, and wanted to check it out.

A basic vaporizer starter kit is one of the items on display. It is a black zipping bag the size and shape of a glasses case. There's a pen shaped vaporizer, and a USB charger inside. The instrument can deliver vapor from endless interchangeable flavored cartridges. 

The cartridges are refilled from eyedropper bottles containing colored juices. These are lined up in orderly rows all along the glass counters and shelves in the shop. EliteVapor NH has 77 flavors available, according to Vickers. 

Flavors include "John Wayne," a tobacco taste, which Hadley says is popular with veteran traditional smokers or transitioning customers. A variety of more exotic flavors are also available.

Some of these unique flavors include Chew Chew Crunch, which tastes like marshmallow cereal candies. In addition, there is Blue Magic - which has a cartoon of Heisenberg from AMC's hit show "Breaking Bad" on the label - Frankenvapor - a green juice with kiwi and marshmallow flavors - and Irie Nights - a Jamaican rum and brown sugar option. A few other options include Raspberry Danish, Jagermeister and Chocolate Cheesecake.

"A group of freshman came in to check this place out. They usually go for the fruity flavors," Hadley said. 

Customizable dispenser kits are available as well.

"You can control the nicotine and flavor levels and the vapor strength," Hadley said. "If you're looking for something milder, or that real deep lung-hit, you can adjust that." 

These customized dispensers are a major subject among the growing vaping community. Given EliteVapor NH's singular status in the state, Vickers reports a strong following not just locally, but in the surrounding North East. 

"We've had people from Concord ... we had a couple who drove 120 miles from Massachusetts, from Vermont, from Maine," Vickers said. It used to be that these customers had to trust reviews and wait for a new juice to arrive by mail, but now they have an opportunity to sample the flavors before purchasing them. 

Part of what the business offers, according to Hadley, is a chance to "kick it, and chill." He explained that part of the appeal of vaping is the friendly, relaxed community of enthusiasts surrounding the pastime. Customers arrive to talk shop, show off their custom kit, try new flavors and socialize with each other. This is why EliteVapor NH has a lounge-like atmosphere. 

There are two black couches facing a coffee table across from the counter. The shop has a clean black and gold style with Chinese money frogs and cats for decoration. Unlike smoke, the vapor does not linger in the air or clothing. The air smells faintly fruity after being filled with the vapors all day. That fact introduces new etiquette questions. 

New Hampshire has no laws against using e-cigarettes inside. Hadley often vapes in bars. Occasionally he has to explain himself to bouncers or fellow patrons, but he has not been asked to stop in any establishment, including, according to Hadley, the Dimond Library. 

"I was right at that computer cluster in the middle, puffing away," Hadley said. "No problem."

Paul Fontana, a sophomore outdoor education major, lives off campus but said he would use his e-cigarette in a dorm without a second thought. 

Sumer Panesar, a sophomore resident assistant in Engelhardt, said if he saw a resident vaping inside, he would ask them to leave, "but the fire alarm wouldn't go off." Resident assistant Dana Hanf agreed. 

Jackie Trexler, a resident assistant in Hunter Hall, reported that she saw a resident vaping indoors once, and allowed him to continue because the discharge does not set off smoke alarms. 

The health effects of electronic vaporizers remain ambiguous. Signs in the store extoll the new product as a preferable option to traditional smoking for a number of reasons, including the return of taste and smell in the smoker, a dramatic decrease in cigarette litter, and zero fire danger. 

The signs also make claims that dentists have reported that patients who have switched from smoking to vaping are indistinguishable in tooth and gum health from those who have quit smoking all together. 

However, Melissa Garvey, a counselor for UNH Health Services would caution students against using e-cigarettes.

"If you don't smoke, don't start," Garvey said. "There are too many unknowns about these products ... which could pose real health risk to consumers."

The presence of nicotine still makes these products potentially addictive. 

The United States Food and Drug Administration has not studied these products as cessation aids. Garvey also cited tests from of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which expressed concerns about carcinogens, and possible metal nanoparticles from the vaporizing mechanism. Also, there are no regulations on the liquid used in e-cigarettes, so the full safety and purity of the contents is unknown. 

"We're not making any health claims," Vickers said. "And over all, I recommend you follow the same etiquette as regular smoking." 

Greg Hadley said he personally had experienced the return of his smell and taste after switching to vaping. He also pointed out that nicotine-free options were available for customers who just wanted to enjoy the multitude of flavors without the addictive chemical. 

Traditional tobacco sales have seen a sharp decrease in recent years after numerous public health campaigns, tighter legislation and increased taxes. CVS vowed to drop cigarettes completely from its shelves this year in an effort to be more health conscious. But e-cigarettes are a growing, multibillion-dollar industry. Shops like the one on Jenkins Court may be here to stay. 

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