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E-Cig Shop Owners Say Indoor Ban Hampers Business Plans

By Alisa Hauser | January 27, 2014 10:07am | Updated on January 28, 2014 6:41pm
 There's three vape shops in Wicker Park.
Vape Shops in Wicker Park
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UPDATE: City officials on Tuesday said the new law allows the use of e-cigarettes inside shops that have a tobacco retailer license, which are now defined as stores that receive 80 percent of their revenue from tobacco, e-cigarettes or related products. Current "vape" shops, many of which operate with retailer licenses, will have to apply for the new license and agree to put all the nicotine products in display cases that are not self-serve, officials said. In addition, the shops must not be located within 500 feet of a school if they sell flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products.

WICKER PARK — A ban on using electronic or e-cigarettes indoors has hampered plans for the owners of "vape" lounges, who say they would not have signed leases if they knew the city was going to restrict the use of the products inside of the shops that sell them.

 Vape's new lounge at 1722 N. Western Ave. on the border of Humboldt and Wicker Park.
Vape's new lounge at 1722 N. Western Ave. on the border of Humboldt and Wicker Park.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

"We got a bigger place for people to come here and relax in, try different flavors. [The ban] threw a monkey wrench in our plans," said Daryl Cura, co-owner of Vape at 1722 N. Western Ave. in Wicker Park.

Earlier this month, members of City Council voted 45-4 vote to ban the use of e-cigs in public and indoor places.

In December, Vape relocated from the waiting room of a car wash to a 1,500-square-foot storefront on the border of Wicker Park and Humboldt Park that's packed with couches, chairs and even a flat screen television.

Cura said if he and business partner Joe Srichinda had known about the ban they "wouldn't have signed a lease."

Vape sell personal vaporizers, more commonly known as e-cigarettes.

"It's a nice alternative to smoking. It's like a portable hookah," Cura said of the high-tech devices, which provide an oral fixation useful for people who want to "ease off" smoking cigarettes.

Vape sells liquids in three sizes and can infuse the flavors with nicotine, though about one-third of his customers do not purchase liquids with nicotine in them. A tank of juice can last three days and has less nicotine in it than a single cigarette, Cura said.

On April 29 the city will begin to enforce the new law, which bans the use of e-cigarettes anywhere where smoking is banned.

"I can understand not vaping in restaurants, but an individual business should be able to determine whether vaping is allowed in their shop," Cura said.

Cura said the city, without having any FDA ruling, "jumped the gun and banned it."

Electronic cigarettes, which create a nicotine-infused vapor for users to inhale, replicate the feeling of smoking without some of the health dangers caused by smoking — though the FDA has yet to determine what health risks the devices pose. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who pushed for approval of the new regulations, said the city could not afford to hold off on the new rules until research becomes available from bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as some aldermen suggested.

"The FDA leads from behind," Emanuel said. "When it comes to the people of the city of Chicago and the children of the city of Chicago, I do not believe we should wait."

The ban has impacted other new new shops, such as Prime Vape, which opened on Saturday at 2140 W. Division St. in Wicker Park and Level Vape, which opened last Saturday at 1747 W. North Ave.

Echoing Cura's regrets about signing a lease, Mariam Clark, manager of Prime Vape, said the owners would not have signed a lease if they had known about the impending ban either.

Clark said she's "there's not enough evidence that vaping indoors is bad for you."

Clark said she's working with the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA) to "try and find a solution."

Clark said she relocated from California to Chicago to help launch a shop in Wicker Park because Division Street is "a good location for us, a good vibe here, a good community."

Larry Eng, the owner of Level Vape, said he "wasn't surprised by the ban" and still plans to open multiple shop with "tasting bars." 

Eng claims he "has a legal way to circumvent [the ban]" but declined to share his strategy with a reporter.

"I planned ahead," Eng said.

Located about two blocks east of the Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues intersection, Level Vape offers 16 flavors of e-liquids that are made in a lab in California, Eng said.

Eng said 70 percent of his customers are non-smokers and "people are vaping as a health alternative to smoking."

To help clear up misconceptions about vaping, Eng said he's been going door to door to meet other business owners and is hosting a private social for his neighbors on Tuesday.

"They think we're a random head shop. We are not selling bongs," Eng said.

Vape's e-cigs — made from stainless steel, aluminum and brass — are available in an array of colors and range in price from $40 to $200.

The crop of new e-cig shops follows the neighborhood's first e-cig shop, Modern Vapor at 1400 N. Milwaukee Ave., which opened in 2012.

On the day before the City Council vote, Modern Vapor posted an update on its Facebook Page encouraging people to write to their alderman.

Modern Vape, Vape, Prime Vape and Level Vape are all located in Ald. Joe Moreno's (1st) ward.

In December, Moreno argued that there is “no evidence that nicotine being vaporized is damaging” to other people in the room.

“We’re trying to protect a set of people [who] don’t need protection. I don’t see why we need to protect people from something I can [create] when I make my tea in the morning. I have no problem with my 10-year-old daughter being in the kitchen when that happens,” Moreno told the Sun-Times.

In contrast to his comments in December, Moreno ultimately sided with the ban, because, as he told constituents in his Jan. 16 e-newsletter, "I voted in favor of this ordinance because as I said on the floor, if I am going to err on a vote, I will err on the side of protecting children."

Contributing: Quinn Ford