E-Cigarette Shop Hopes to Convert Smokers on Lower East Side

By Serena Solomon on July 24, 2013 11:50am 

LOWER EAST SIDE — Forget smoke breaks — a new Lower East Side store is urging New Yorkers to take a vapor break instead.

Vape New York specializes in electronic cigarettes, which create a nicotine-infused vapor for users to inhale, mimicking the feeling of smoking without some of the attendant health dangers.

The new store, which opened last Friday at 40 Rivington St., is an extension of Vape New York's online shop and its first brick-and-mortar location in Jamaica, Queens, which the company estimates has already converted thousands of smokers to e-cigarettes, based on surveys.

"You don't stink, your hair doesn't smell, you can't burn holes in your clothes," said Spike Babaian, 39, co-owner of Vape New York.

"You can use them in most places because they don't produce smoke."

The high-tech devices feature a rechargeable battery and a choice of dozens of flavors of vapor, including berry, vanilla mint and tobacco.

E-cigarette smokers looking for a nicotine rush can add that in as well, choosing one of five different levels depending on how much they want.

"They don't produce carbon monoxide. They don't produce tar. There is no ash because there is nothing burning," said Babaian, of why she believes even vapors with nicotine are still healthier than a cigarette.

Vape New York's new Lower East Side outpost has attracted a diverse group of people so far, with young and trendy "vapors" — as e-cigarette smokers have nicknamed themselves — puffing alongside 60-year-olds on a recent afternoon.

"Oh my gosh. It's so cute," squealed one young customer, eyeing a thin and stylish e-cigarette in baby pink that sells for $30 with a charger kit.

More expensive e-cigarettes include the United States-made Provari, which costs about $175, not including optional accessories such as a skull mouthpiece, known in vapor circles as a "drip tip."

"People stay for hours just hanging out and vaping," said co-owner Phil Roseman, 47, who has been "vaping" himself since 2009 after a 26-year tobacco habit. 

"Everyone has a story to share and they all have this common bond — a nicotine habit."

The store offers café tables and free Wi-Fi to encourage customers to hang out, plus there are groups and vapor associations clients can join.

Jason Meilan, a 37-year-old high school teacher, picked up e-cigarettes for the first time last year after relapsing into his 20-year smoking habit, which he started when he was 13.

"I started taking long, long walks" in an effort to hide the smoking from his wife, Meilan said.

Now Meilan is smoking e-cigarettes and hopes to wean himself off nicotine gradually.

"I think I will do this until my hand stops shaking, and then I will quit it entirely," Meilan said.

Howard Sloane, 62, a Vape New York customer for the past year, said he had no intention of graduating from e-cigarettes.

"I had quit smoking, but I don't think I ever got over my nicotine craving," he said. "I just really enjoy it."

The Food and Drug Administration has attempted to block the sale of e-cigarettes and is calling for more research into the technology's benefits and risks, according to a recent New York Times article. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law last September prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18 for fear the technology could be a gateway to nicotine addiction and smoking regular cigarettes.

But for Roseman, just staying away from lung-damaging smoke is already a step in the right direction.

"Your eyes see the smoke, you get that 'throat hit' and it stops them from buying a pack," he said.

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