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Promoting a different way to puff

A new shop in town is offering smokers an alternative product to cigarettes.

Masterpiece Vapors, which opened in downtown Perham in late July, specializes in the sale of electronic nicotine vaporizers, or “vapes,” as they’re often called within the industry.

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Store owner Jenny Hoban describes vapes as advanced versions of the e-cigarettes commonly seen at gas stations. But she doesn’t like to associate her product with any kind of cigarette, she said, for the simple reason that “it’s not a cigarette.”

Unlike cigarettes, personal vaporizers contain no tobacco and produce no smoke. Instead, a small battery-powered device heats up a container of “e-liquid” (a liquid mixture of vegetable glycerine, nicotine and flavoring) to create a vapor, which is inhaled by the user.

Using a vaporizer looks and feels similar to smoking a cigarette or pipe, but advocates say vapes are less dangerous than that.

“It’s a very clean delivery system,” Hoban said of how vaporizers work. “It helps satisfy the nicotine craving and hand-to-mouth fixation, but takes out all the carcinogens and tar and other harmful additives that are in cigarettes.”

Hoban said she’s seen vaporizers help many former smokers quit, including some of her own family members. Still, she doesn’t market the vapes as smoking cessation tools.

There is anecdotal evidence, but no conclusive scientific research to prove that vapes are entirely safe and effective in helping smokers quit. They’re also too new for anyone to know the possible health risks of long-term use. The Food and Drug Administration does not study or regulate vaporizers.

Unlike cigarettes, the use of vapes in public places is not restricted under the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act. Individual business owners may choose not to allow them, but Hoban said many bars and other businesses in Perham are currently “vapor friendly.”

Secondhand smoke is not an issue with vaporizers, since no smoke is produced, and using vapes is less expensive than buying cigarettes. Hoban said someone with a pack-a-day smoking habit, for example, could cut their spending to about $40 a month by switching to a vaporizer.

Vaporizers also offer more flavor options. Tobacco flavors are popular with customers, Hoban said, as are menthols and sweet flavors like Vanilla Sunrise or Boston Cream Pie. There are even flavors that mimic other products, like root beer and Mountain Dew.

E-liquid options that contain no nicotine are also available, producing what is essentially a flavored vapor.

For all these reasons, Hoban said, the use of personal vaporizers is rising all over the country, not only among smokers and former smokers, but also among a growing population of hobbyists.

“This is the future of smoking,” Hoban said. “You have choices now.”

In Minnesota, a person must be at least 18 years old to buy or use a vaporizer. Health officials warn that nicotine is addictive and is in need of better regulation in the relatively new vaporizer industry.

But Hoban is convinced that her product serves a positive purpose.

“Seeing people so ecstatic about making that huge change, milestone, accomplishment of leaving cigarettes behind, and saving money for something better, is awesome,” she said. “And more importantly, they’re saving their health.”

It was while working for an e-cigarette shop in southern California that Hoban was first exposed to vaporizers, she said, and seeing what they could do for smokers made her want to open her own business.

“I just saw how many people it helped,” she said of vaporizer usage. “...It made me want to bring it out here (to Minnesota), to a part of the country that hadn’t been as exposed to it yet.”

Hoban moved to the area last year with her two children. She has family in New York Mills and wanted the kids to be raised near them. Originally from Colorado, she grew up spending her summers with family in Minnesota, including trips to see her grandparents in the Menahga area.

Masterpiece Vapors is located on Main Street in Perham, between Lakes Café and P.S. I Love You. For more information, visit the store’s facebook page or call 218-841-0231.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their young son and daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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