By Anna Akins
Main Street Vapes, which opened Sept. 18, provides customers with a slightly different experience from the traditional antique shops and eateries of Lexington’s Main Street.
“It was definitely a challenge to get the city to accept this store and the idea of vaping,” said Brice Bahhur, the owner of Main Street Vapes, located at 22 N. Main St.
“Vaping” is slang for the act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor – not smoke – produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.
Bahhur is a Lexington local who was inspired to open Main Street Vapes because several of his family members own vape shops across the country. He thought Main Street would be a perfect location for his store because of the college environment and the overall “hustle and bustle” of the area.
“E-cigarettes are a growing industry and since Lexington didn’t have a vape shop, I thought this would be a new and exciting addition,” he said.
Bahhur’s store offers a wide array of electronic cigarette devices, known as e-cigarettes, which have increased in popularity because of the notion that they are healthier alternatives to cigarettes and that they help wean smokers off nicotine.
“These are a safer option,” Bahhur said. “There’s not as many chemicals or side effects and it’s basically just a healthier way to get a nicotine intake.”
E-cigarettes are battery-powered vaporizers that mimic the act of smoking, but without tobacco combustion. They also contain a heating element, which vaporizes a liquid solution known as an e-liquid. E-liquids contain nicotine along with other ingredients and come in several different sizes and flavors.
E-liquid bottles vary in the amounts of nicotine they contain. Heavy smokers who use e-cigarettes as a cessation aid will use bottles with greater amounts of nicotine than less-frequent smokers.
Bahhur offers e-liquid bottle sizes ranging from 15 to 30 milliliters. He offers a maximum nicotine dosage of 12 milligrams and a minimum of zero.
Quitting the Habit, with Flavor
E-liquids often have sweet aromas and flavors. For instance, Bahhur’s store offers flavors such as Mega-Melon, Fruit Rollupz, Sugar Drizzle and Unicorn Milk, among several others.
Customers are offered testers, which enable them to sample a wide variety of e-liquid flavors. From there,they can purchase pre-made e-cigarette kits or build-it-yourself kits.
Bahhur’s starter kits range from $60 to $115, and his build-it-yourself kits range anywhere from $60 to a couple hundred dollars, depending on how elaborate customers want their e-cigarettes to be.
Since e-cigarettes are subject only to sales tax, they tend to be cheaper than regular cigarettes, which carry excise taxes of nearly 50 percent of their retail price.
Bahhur helps customers from all walks of life. Long-time smokers who are looking to quit cigarettes often stop by.
One such customer, Rockbridge County resident Todd Shumate, visited Main Street Vapes on impulse.
“This is my first experience with e-cigarettes,” he said. “I’ve wanted to quit smoking for a while, and now I think it’s time.”
Another customer, who wished to remain anonymous, visited Bahhur’s store because she had been looking for an alternative to cigarettes.
“I’m done with smoking,” she said. “Smoking smells bad, it’s bad for you, and this seems to be a good alternative to cigarettes.”
Bahhur first starts smokers on a nicotine amount that matches their current level of smoking. The goal, he said, is to wean them.
“What I want to do is to eventually get people down to zero milligrams,” he said. “If you’re using zero milligrams you’re not taking in any nicotine, so you’re basically just doing it for fun at that point.”
While Bahhur advises customers on which nicotine level they should choose, the final choice is up to them.
“I advise customers to start out with a medium amount at first,” he said. “Then they can decide if they want to try more nicotine or less.”
Bahhur said that, while e-cigarettes are available at gas stations and convenience stores, they tend to be very low quality and are “one step above disposable.” Bahhur claims to buy only top-notch e-cigarettes and e-liquids.
E-cigarettes can also be found online, but Bahhur said that customers eliminate waiting time and extra shipping costs by visiting his store.
A Healthy Alternative?
Since e-cigarettes are relatively new, their health risks are unclear. Dr. Jane Horton, director of Student Health and Counseling at Washington and Lee University, said research does not yet support the claim that e-cigarettes are healthier than cigarettes.
“There is not good science to evaluate the health risks of inhaling the vaporized nicotine, vehicle and flavorings of e-cigarettes,” she said. “[But] there is a common perception that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking cigarettes.”
While vaping is often seen as a safer alternative, Horton said that vaping contributes to harmful physiological changes in the respiratory system.
“E-cigarettes have not been approved as a safe smoking cessation device for nicotine replacement delivery,” she said. “Nicotine is the addictive ingredient in cigarettes [and] e-cigarettes still deliver that addictive substance.”
A study published by the American Heart Association in 2014 found some evidence suggesting that e-cigarettes appear to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes don’t burn, and they give off far fewer dangerous chemicals than regular cigarettes.
But it also warned that these observations were based on limited data.
Bahhur said that in reality, it’s very difficult for longtime smokers to quit cold turkey. He said e-cigarettes reduce smokers’ nicotine intake in a safe and gradual way while also providing them with an experience similar to smoking.
“My thing is, if you’re going to smoke cigarettes, why not at least try a vape?” he said.
Above all, Bahhur hopes for his store to educate the public about e-cigarettes and at the same time to reduce smoking in the area.
“I want people to understand this more and to not be as leery of it,” he said “This isn’t just a fad, but a way to help people stop doing something that is harmful.”