E-cigarettes largely unregulated

2014-03-08T23:00:00Z 2014-03-09T23:06:16Z E-cigarettes largely unregulatedElvia Malagon elvia.malagon@nwi.com, (219) 933-3246 nwitimes.com

Tucked behind a shopping plaza on a quieter stretch of U.S. 41 in St. John, a small shop is part of the booming industry of electronic cigarettes.

Chris Huseman opened Vape All Day in November after working out of his home for about a year. Huseman started using electronic cigarettes in 2011 after his uncle came across the product at a convention in California.

His mother, Debbie Huseman, who helps run the shop, said she began smoking when she was 15 and never thought she would quit. But in November 2011, she tried the electronic cigarette and since then has not touched a traditional cigarette.

The Huseman family aren't alone. While it's unclear exactly how many people use electronic cigarettes throughout the country, many officials call it a booming industry.

Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated and resemble regular cigarettes. They are filled with cartridges that contain different levels of nicotine and often come in different flavors, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Vapin Valpo has been open for less than a year, but the store is already undergoing rapid expansion. In September, the owners opened a second store in Hobart and plan to open a third in Portage by April.

Tom Schroeder, the manager of Vapin Valpo, described himself as a walking testament to why electronic cigarettes work. He smoked regular cigarettes for 30 years until his friend, the owner of Vapin Valpo, introduced him to electronic cigarettes. He has since quit smoking and no longer uses any nicotine in his electronic cigarette.

He says a good chunk of Vapin Valpo's customers are senior citizens looking for a way to stop smoking or an alternative to cigarettes before they are scheduled to undergo a medical procedure that prevents tobacco cigarettes.

Schroeder said Vapin Valpo's business mostly focuses of selling e-juice for the cigarettes. He said this method allows customers to control how much nicotine they want to consume, which is meant to gradually wean a smoker off nicotine. Prices can vary widely from $30 to $80.

Chris Huseman said he tries to keep Vape All Day customers informed about what is in the e-juice and only sells e-juice made in the United States.

"There are so many options out there," he said. "The stuff you buy online is OK. There's good juice and bad juice."

Some officials are worried the variety of flavors of e-juice are attracting younger consumers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study in 2013 indicted as many as 1.78 million U.S. middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2012.

There are no federal regulations for electronic cigarettes.

In Indiana, a law was passed in 2013 prohibiting the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors and requires businesses to post signs indicating minors aren't allowed to buy the product.

Indiana State Excise Police Cpl. Travis Thickstun said officers have issued a dozen warnings to businesses who haven't posted proper signage since the new law was passed. Thickstun said one underage teen was cited for having an e-cigarette last year at an outdoor festival in Evansville.

Debbie Huseman said she feels healthier since she switched to electronic cigarettes. Her husband, who also stopped smoking and started vaping, has had less medical issues.

Though Debbie Huseman and other electronic cigarette advocates say it is a healthier alternative to regular cigarette smoking, officials are wary of calling them safe.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website says electronic cigarettes haven't been fully studied to determine what are all the potentially harmful chemicals associated with the product.

Miranda Spitznagle, director of Tobacco Prevention and Cessation, said the Indiana Department of Health is awaiting federal authorities to regulate the product.

"I think the main message from the health community is we just don't know enough," she said.

Spitznagle said the health department does not condone the product as a way to quit smoking. She recommends that anyone who wants to quit smoking to call (800) QUITNOW.

Officials in Chicago aren't waiting for federal regulations. The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance earlier this year prohibiting the use of electronic cigarettes anywhere tobacco products are banned. The ordinance also requires businesses to place the product behind retail counters.

State Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago, introduced House Bill 1174 earlier this year, which would tax electronic cigarettes in Indiana the same way tobacco products are currently taxed.

According to the bill's fiscal note, electronic cigarettes could increase tobacco products' tax revenue to $4.49 million to $7.11 million in fiscal year 2015. However, the bill died in the Ways and Means Committee.

Huseman said he anticipates electronic cigarettes will be more closely regulated eventually but hopes the product doesn't get lumped together with tobacco cigarettes.

"If it's a fair tax," he said. "I'm fine with that."

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