Daily Gazette: Friends produce a cigarette alternative

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Published September 18, 2011

By Sara Foss

COHOES — The Revolution Protege Starter Kit comes in a simple yet elegant box.

Inside, there are two electronic cigarettes, a charger and power adapter and a small plastic box containing flavor cartridges. For those unfamiliar with electronic cigarettes, there’s also a manual.

The kit is one of the products offered by Revolution Vapor, a Cohoes company that is the brainchild of recent college graduates Mike Hazard and Eric Swick. The company sells electronic cigarettes, accessories and supplies through a website and recently began selling their products at the cigarette kiosk at Colonie Center. The goal, Hazard said, is to establish both a retail and online presence.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery-powered, reusable devices that often look like traditional cigarettes. When a user inhales, a sensor heats a cartridge in the mouthpiece, vaporizing a liquid nicotine solution so that it can be inhaled. They are smoke-free and don’t contain cigarette tar and other additives, which makes them appealing to those seeking an alternative to tobacco smoking. People who use electronic cigarettes refer to the practice as vaping, rather than smoking.

Feds step in

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it would begin regulation, saying that they are both a drug and a drug-delivery device. The agency sent letters to five electronic cigarette companies warning that the devices were being marketed illegally as smoking-cessation aids or were produced using poor manufacturing practices.

But in December, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that as long as electronic cigarettes aren’t marketed as a way to treat or cure a disease, the FDA has no authority to block their importation. E-cigarettes first became available in the U.S. about four years ago, and the FDA began confiscating imports in 2008. The FDA decided not to appeal the decision, instead announcing that it would develop a strategy to regulate them as tobacco products.

Swick first learned about e-cigarettes from a friend.

“I saw someone with an e-cigarette and I was sort of fascinated with it,” Swick recalled. “I’d always thought there had to be a better way to deliver nicotine without smoking.”

Swick started smoking e-cigarettes, which he said enabled him to stop smoking the real thing. Hazard, also a smoker, saw Swick puffing on an e-cigarette and “I knew I had to try it myself.” Like Swick, Hazard used the device to quit smoking. But the two were less than impressed with the quality of e-cigarettes and decided they wanted to try to create a better product.

Opportunity

The Court of Appeals decision served as a green light to go ahead with their business, Hazard said. Prior to the decision, “No one knew if e-cigarettes were going to last,” he said. “But now the industry is beginning to grow.”

E-cigarettes are not considered a smoking-cessation aid, and anti-smoking groups warn against using them to quit smoking, saying that not enough is known about the ingredients of the vapors. Revolution Vapor’s website contains the following statement: “Electronic cigarettes are not an aid for smoking cessation. Electronic cigarettes in no way intend to diagnose, treat, cure or mitigate any disease or condition.”

Michael Seilbeck, senior director of public policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association of New York State, said that organization remains concerned about the public health effects of e-cigarettes, despite the Court of Appeals ruling.

“We’re still unsure of what’s in the product,” Seilbeck said. He noted that there are seven different kinds of smoking cessation therapies that are recommended for people looking to quit, including lozenges and nicotine patches, and that e-cigarettes are not one of them. “There are no signs that e-cigarettes help people quit,” he said. “If there’s science showing that they’re effective cessation tools, then we’ll support them.”

Seilbeck said that e-cigarettes make it harder to enforce smoke-free laws and that children who see people using them might think smoking is acceptable. “I was in a movie theater with my kids and I saw a woman puffing on an e-cigarette inside the theater,” he said.

He said that e-cigarettes are often flavored, which appeals to kids. “We have fought efforts by tobacco companies to flavor cigarettes, and we oppose efforts to flavor e-cigarettes,” he said.

Swick and Hazard make the liquid nicotine solution for their e-cigarettes in their apartment, and offer 15 flavors, including French toast, strawberry lemonade, raspberry truffle, American tobacco and menthol tobacco. The solution is made from a concentrated flavor base often used to make candy.

“It’s like cooking,” Hazard said. “It’s a trial and error process. Most of the flavors are blends are two or three flavors. We didn’t want to offer single flavors. We wanted it to be more complex.” The French toast flavor, he noted, combines four different flavors.

Made in china

The cigarettes are imported from China and, unlike other electronic cigarettes, do not look like traditional cigarettes; colors include pink, white, chrome and electric blue.

“We wanted to be cool, modern,” Hazard said. “We didn’t want to look like a cigarette. That’s not what we are.”

There are six different Revolution Vapor kits. Prices range from $39.95 for the Revolution Protege Essential Starter Kit to $104.95 for the Revolution Protege Premium Starter Kit. The e-cigarettes are available in high, medium, low, and zero nicotine.

Asked about concerns that electronic cigarettes could make children and teenagers interested in smoking, Swick said that e-cigarettes are intended for smokers who are looking for an alternative.

“We don’t want to convert non-smokers to smokers,” he said, adding, “I think there’s more than enough information out there about the dangers of smoking.”