A growing number of vapor shops selling electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, have opened their doors around the Cy-Fair area in the last year, providing what many claim is a healthy alternative to traditional cigarettes. Customers and shop owners alike attest to the effects of making the switch.
"Not only is it healthier, but you immediately notice the difference in your ability to smell and taste things again," said Doug MacAnally, one of the owners of Lone Star Vaporium, which opened in the Fairfield area in March. "It's a great feeling to see a customer throw a pack of cigarettes in the garbage as they walk in."
Co-owner Fouzi Ferroukhi opened the shop with McAnally and Jessy Hughes, who both help with day-to-day operations. The owners used to smoke cigarettes but switched to vaping several months before opening the shop.
E-cigarettes work using a flavored e-juice, which is put inside a vaporizing device and heated into a vapor. Vaping enthusiasts tout the fact that e-cigarettes do not contain many of the harmful chemicals and carcinogens found in traditional cigarettes. They also do not produce smoke, but a water vapor mist instead.
Lone Star Vaporium is one of a handful of vapor shops to open around Cy-Fair within the past year. Vapor Cigs of Texas opened on Jones Road last fall, E-Cig and Vapor Lounge opened a Cy-Fair location on FM 1960 in September and Absolute Vapor opened a Mills Road location in the Lighthouse Plaza in November.
Many of these locations provide a bar/lounge atmosphere where customers can sit down and sample various flavors of e-juices. Business was slow at first, Ferroukhi said, but picked up as people in the community started to realize what the shop was actually about.
"At first, people thought we were more like a head shop, but we don't do anything like that," he said. "Once people figured us out, we started to get a lot more positive attention. I think we're going to see more shops like this open up as more people drop traditional cigarettes and never look back."
Although those who use vapor cigarettes are quick to attest to the health benefits, the federal Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco but not nicotine, is looking for more information on the effects of vaping. FDA officials have issued a proposal that would extend the agency's tobacco authority to cover e-cigarettes, claiming not enough studies have been done to fully comprehend the potential risks and benefits. The FDA would also obtain the power to tax electronic cigarette sales.
Meanwhile, vaping continues to grow in popularity. City of Houston officials passed a sweeping ban on smoking in the city's public parks in July, but the ban did not include e-cigarettes because they are not considered a tobacco product.
With more than 300 vendors attending, the largest vaping summit in the world took place at NRG Center in Houston in November. Organizers of The Vape Summit have taken a strong stance on fighting the FDA's efforts to regulate electronic cigarettes. Event officials have suggested that the FDA's main interest in extending its ability to regulate vaping is not public health, but extending its taxing authority to e-cigarettes.
"A lot of the talk makes it sound like e-cigarettes are the same thing as smoking, and they're not," MacAnalley said. "The research may not be out there yet, but all you have to do is talk to the people to see how this is changing lives."