Zach Eastman leaned back in a chair, brought a small device up to his mouth and inhaled.
Vaping, he says, is trending upward in central Pennsylvania, much like it is across the United States.
Eastman, whose education is in plastics engineering, worked in electronics manufacturing for years until he opened Illuminated Vapes in August 2014 at 129 Rolling Ridge Drive in State College. It is the only vaping store in Centre County.
“The devices we use are roughly the size of a large to small flashlight, and they use liquid nicotine and flavoring,” he said. “The device actually boils and vaporizes liquid nicotine, and you inhale it like a cigarette, except there’s no carcinogens, no tar, no nasty smell. Most people say vaping smells more like a candle or air freshener.”
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He also talked about how vaping was a gateway to help him stop smoking, the safety of vaping and whether the government should regulate the vaping industry.
Q: How did you learn about vaping?
A: My uncle was the first person I knew to try electronic cigarettes (in 2011). After four months of him doing it I saw a change in him. He stopped smoking. He was a completely different person. I thought maybe it could work for me.
Q: What was your reaction to the idea of vaping?
A: I was initially a little put off by the thought ... I was worried about what was in the liquid.
I also saw the potential in it. Anything that was better than smoking was a good thing to me. The first ones I tried had inefficient batteries, ran out of liquid quickly, were expensive and tasted bad. It took time for me to find the right products to work for me.
Q: Have manufactures gotten better at making the product?
A: I compare it to the computer games in the ’90s. By the time you get a new device home it’s already obsolete. There’s always something coming out that’s just a little bit better. Every three weeks or so a new product comes out that someone calls a game changer. So, yes, they started out as junky little things, and they’ve evolved especially in the last two years into really high quality, high efficient products.
Q: What impact did vaping have on you?
A: I haven’t smoked in four years. Any pack-a-day smoker will tell you, you have trouble running up the steps, chasing after the kids. You wake up hacking and coughing. You cough in the movie theater and disturb everyone.
The first few weeks of vaping I did cough a bit, but I realized it was my lungs healing themselves and getting rid of all the buildup they had. A year after I started vaping I was breathing a lot better, and I didn’t get winded jogging and running. I could go to the gym without issues. I didn’t have pain in my lungs when I woke up. I feel much healthier.
Q: Some articles clearly slant one way or another about the safety of vaping. Doctors, however, seem generally undecided. Are you in favor of studies and regulations on vaping?
A: Yes, absolutely. I think the industry needs to be regulated. I think the FDA needs to regulate the ingredients and percentages and tolerances. I think they should be made in a clean lab on pharmaceutical-grade equipment. I also believe studies should continue on vaping long-term.
My personal feeling is that’s much better than smoking. I feel like it’s many times better, and there is a lot of twisted information out there in skewed articles going one way or the other. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. If it’s going to be around long-term, we need to know exactly what it does to the body so that we don’t make the mistakes we did with tobacco in the 1940s and ’50s.
Q: Like you said, vaping is still relatively unregulated. As an example, Pennsylvania is one of the last few states without age restrictions for vaping products. But, as you said, you are in favor of regulations, right?
A: Well, first, we don’t sell to minors even though it’s technically legal to do so. My policy is that it shouldn’t be available to people who aren’t able to make good decisions for themselves, so we don’t do that. Pennsylvania should step in and make it illegal to sell to people under 18 years old. They should go after it the same way they did alcohol and have dedicated shops that sell the product and do it the right way, and fine people who don’t.
Q: Some say that vaping could be a gateway to cigarette smoking or illegal drug use. Do you see that as a possibility?
A: I think if my kid was 18 years old, I’d rather them be vaping than doing anything else. But, no, I don’t think it’s a gateway to anything. I think there’s such a positive community around vaping that it’s not like closet smoking. There a big, positive community behind vaping that’s actually really against smoking. If you got into vaping, if anything, it would keep you from smoking cigarettes. It was the reverse for me and got me away from smoking cigarettes.
Q: According to the Center for Disease Control, about 10 percent of adults have tried vaping as of 2013, so it is a niche market. After a year in operation can you say it is a viable business in State College?
A: Absolutely. Since day one our business has improved. The number of customers have grown as more people have learned about it. There will be multiple vape shops in State College soon. I know of three more that can open in the next six months.
Q: The CDC also said nearly twice as many adults became aware of vaping from 2010 to 2013 and current smokers quadrupled their rate of vaping in the same time. Do you believe more central Pennsylvania smokers are also turning to vaping more?
A: Yes. Every day I have someone come in here and tell me, and I know this will probably sound egotistical, that I saved their lives and these products saved their lives. People always tell me they finally quit smoking. I have people from our community thanking us for being here. Yeah, it’s changing Centre County’s health and America’s health.
Q: What flavor do you like to vape the most?
A: There’s a few. My favorite is probably Solar Flare from Moon Mountain. It’s a pomegranate lemonade ... It’s delicious. I have it at least once a day, and I’ve been using it for about six months now. Love it, absolutely love it.