For the first time in years, breathing didn’t feel like a struggle.
Random Andrews was smoking a pack of cigarettes each day. The southside resident had wanted to quit but hadn’t found success using traditional ways. Not until he started vaping, or using e-cigarettes, did his craving for tobacco cease.
Three or four weeks after that last cigarette, Andrews could feel the difference. He could breathe easier and didn’t get winded. People commented that he no longer smelled like cigarettes.
“Once you’re away from it for a while, you smell other people who do smoke and it’s just a stench,” he said.
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For the people who have picked it up, e-cigarettes and vaping is a way to quit tobacco and traditional cigarettes. The products they smoke don’t have the myriad of chemicals and toxins that cigarettes do. They don’t smell like an old ashtray, and feel better.
E-cigarette use is sharply rising in Johnson County and throughout the country. But as more people have started using the devices, health officials warn that little is known right now about the effects of vaping.
More government bodies, from local city councils to the Food and Drug Administration, are taking a closer look at e-cigarettes and putting rules in place in the name of public health.
“Since it hasn’t been around for a long time compared to pipes and cigarettes and other things, you don’t know what the long-term health effects are,” said Bob Smith, an environmental health specialist with the Johnson County Health Department. “But we do know that some of the molecules in the vapor can actually contain some toxic items.”
E-cigarettes and vaping are a relatively new invention.
Both are similar products, though how each device looks varies. Instead of lighting tobacco on fire, users insert a cartridge containing nicotine, flavoring and other ingredients, which is heated by an electronic coil.
The devices were invented in China in 2003, and were introduced in the U.S. in 2007. But in less than 10 years, more than 20 million people had tried e-cigarettes.
Joey Raney tried it for the first time about four years ago. He was a regular smoker and had been smoking cigarettes since he was a teen. He and Andrews worked together at a local restaurant and would often take smoke breaks at the same time. They talked about wanting to quit.
“I was tired of not being able to breathe and smelling absolutely awful,” Raney said.
He had heard of vaping before, but since most sales of the devices was done online, he’d never tried it.
Raney purchased a vaping starter kit online to see if he’d like it. Almost immediately, he liked the taste, the effect and the fact that he could satisfy his nicotine cravings without tobacco.
A few weeks after stopping smoking traditional cigarettes, he noticed a difference in his quality of life. His sense of smell sharpened, and he found he could taste food and drinks more vibrantly.
“I take a deep breath, and it actually feels like a satisfying, deep breath,” Raney said. “Everything tastes so much better.”
It was Raney who convinced Andrews to try vaping. Andrews believes he was successful quitting cigarettes because vaping was so similar to the habit. He still had that sensation of holding in smoke and breathing the vapor.
“That’s what I was really addicted to, that hand-to-mouth aspect. You still get that with vaping, without all of the really bad side effects,” he said.
Beyond their own health, both Raney and Andrews saw a business opportunity in the growing popularity of vaping. They opened their store Sir Vapes-A-Lot in 2014 just north of Greenwood, mixing their own juice in a clean-room on-site. Their business has grown enough to warrant expanding to a second shop in Avon.
“At that moment in time, probably around 2013, there was no one on the southside selling this,” Andrews said. “We started looking for funds to open up a shop.”
Vaping helped get pretty much all of their friends off of cigarettes, Andrews said. Statistics from the National Health Information Survey showed that in 2014, 22 percent of recent former smokers were currently using e-cigarettes.
Franklin resident Brian Potter started vaping about 2 1/2 years ago. He had been smoking for 25 years and wanted a way to quit.
When his wife tried vaping, he was curious how it worked. Potter found that he could get the nicotine he craved without all of the other chemicals in cigarette smoke. Starting with a cartridge delivering 18 milligrams of nicotine — nearly 1/5 the amount in a cigarette — he worked his way down to 3 milligrams.
E-cigarettes didn’t have the stench of traditional tobacco, and he was saving money in the process.
“When I first started, I was spending $15 a week on it, as opposed to $60 for cigarettes,” he said. “I breathe better, I’m saving money, and I enjoy it.”
And smoking rates are declining countywide. Over the past five years, Johnson County’s smoking rate has dropped from 26.1 percent to 24.1 percent. While more than 24,000 adults still smoke in the county, that number is decreasing as well.
But while those numbers are encouraging, health officials see cause for concern in e-cigarettes.
Data from the 2015 Johnson County Youth Survey, which questioned teens about their use of drugs and alcohol, showed e-cigarette use is on the rise among young people. More than 18 percent of the 10th- and 11th-graders surveyed had used the devices.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, 3 million middle or high school students regularly used e-cigarettes in 2015, up from 2.46 million the year before.
“It’s something that’s relatively new, something they might experiment with or use, and now they’re addicted to the nicotine,” Smith said. “That’s one of the health concerns, that they’ll get addicted to it.”
Smith, who also is a board member of Tobacco Free Johnson County, has spoken in schools and to community groups about the risks associated with e-cigarettes.
He has spoken in front of the Franklin City Council with the hopes of driving the expansion of the existing smoking ban to include the devices. Greenwood added an e-cigarette and vaporizer ban to its city-wide smoking policy in 2015, and the goal is to convince Franklin to do it as well.
According to Environmental Health Perspectives, a research journal from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, e-cigarettes have less of the dangerous toxins found in tobacco.
The vapor of the devices contains nine times less formaldehyde, 120 times less toluene, used in industrial feedstock and common glue, and 450 times less acetaldehyde, a chemical found in coffee and bread, as well as to create some resins.
But those substances are all still present in e-cigarette vapor.
Limited research and surveying by the University of California has shown that e-cigarettes can result in headaches, respiratory tract irritation and dips in appetite.
With the relative newness of e-cigarettes, its popularity has outpaced regulation and rules. But that is changing.
New federal rules announced in early May require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Sale of the devices to people 18 or younger is prohibited.
Adults younger than 26 will be required to show a photo identification to purchase them.
Manufacturers will be required to disclose the ingredients in the juice and cartridges used in the devices, and government review of how the devices are made is needed before they can be sold in the United States.
Potter believes that the efforts are attempts by the tobacco industry to regain some of the money they’ve lost from tobacco cessation efforts. He admits that there is more to learn about e-cigarettes and vaping.
But more people vaping as opposed to smoking is a good thing, he said.
“Do we really know what vaping is going to do to you long-term? No,” he said. “But it’s not a cigarette, and what can be worse that that? We know the long-term effects of cigarettes.”
The new regulations cracking down on manufacturers has Ramey and Andrews concerned as business owners.
Sir Vapes-A-Lot pays sales tax on its devices and its juice. But the additional regulation will require thorough testing from each seller’s products. Undergoing FDA testing can cost $1 to $2 million per product, money that smaller business owners don’t have.
“It’ll completely shut us down in two years,” Raney said. “We’ll be done.”
Lawsuits are being filed to grandfather in businesses that are currently in operation. But if those are unsuccessful, the estimate is that 98 percent of currently vaping businesses will be out of business, Andrews said.
Indiana has already passed regulations that strictly license juice producers and will likely stop Sir Vapes-A-Lot from making their own products starting this summer.
“There are a lot of things, such as sales to minors and child-proofing, that we definitely support. It’s the other stuff that prevents us from doing business,” Raney said.
A closer look at e-cigarettes:
3 million: Middle and high school students who were regular e-cigarette users in 2015.
2.46 million: Middle and high school students who were regular e-cigarette users in 2014.
18 percent: Percentage of 10th- and 11th-graders in Johnson County who used e-cigarettes in 2015.
4.5 percent: Percentage of seventh- and eighth-graders in Johnson County who used e-cigarettes in 2015.
24.8 percent: Percentage of 12th-graders in Indiana using e-cigarettes in 2015.
$3.5 billion: E-cigarette sales in 2014
Here is a look at the status of e-cigarette regulations:
Greenwood: City rules state that smoking of traditional and e-cigarettes is prohibited inside certain public places, including restaurants, business and city property, such as parks, outdoor seating areas at restaurants and is not allowed within 25 feet of a building entrance. The ban does not include bars.
Franklin: Currently bans smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes indoors. E-cigarettes are not covered in the ban, though anti-tobacco groups are petitioning the city council to include the devices.
Efforts have been made in the legislature to include e-cigarettes to the statewide smoking ban. So far, no law has been passed.
In 2015, though, lawmakers passed House Bill 1432, which bans the sale of e-liquids to people under 18, requires manufacturers to get a permit before bottling or selling, and mandates the use of specified safety equipment and childproof caps.
The Food and Drug Administration expanded its regulatory authority over all tobacco products, including vaporizers, vape pens, hookah pens and e-cigarettes.
Provisions have been made aimed at restricting youth access, including: not allowing products to be sold to persons under age 18 years; requiring age verification by photo ID; banning the sale of covered tobacco products in vending machines (unless in an adult-only facility); and not allowing the distribution of free samples.