shane mcgilloway

Vaping in Philly: Tax-free, unregulated (so far) but ‘I can feel my lungs again’

As the FDA considers regulating e-cigarettes, enthusiasts say vaping is the best way to kick the smoking habit.

Anthony Fanelli prefers carny apple and hates chocolate-covered bacon, while Shane McGilloway argues that he sometimes likes the more “cheesecake-y” tastes. The two men surround themselves every day with white billows of smoke at Fishtown Vapes, trying out new flavors and giving them the up or down — they’re not sugary desserts, but flavors used in e-cigarettes.

Business has boomed at Fanelli’s vape shop on the 1600 block of Frankford Avenue over the last year as more people discover vaping as a means to quitting smoking. The switch worked for the two men at the shop; around 90 percent of Fanelli’s customers told him they’re turning to vaping in order to kick the smoking habit.

“I was spending $4,000 a year in cigs,” Fanelli, the 30-year-old owner of the shop, said. “But I switched, and it got me off cigs, and my dad quit, too. My smell came back, my taste buds came back and I can feel my lungs again.”

Fanelli and McGilloway are two of the more than two million people in America who have turned to vaping as a means of quitting smoking, and Fanelli’s cashing in on the increasing trend. Here’s how it works: Each starter kit includes a rechargeable lithium battery, a cartridge containing liquid and an atomizer, which consists of a heating coil. Essentially, the atomizer heats up the liquid so it becomes a vapor that can be inhaled, creating an inhalable vapor that smells more like sugar and less like burnt tobacco.

e-cigarette components

Photo via howtovape.com

Is it safe? Is it taxed? Is it regulated? Ha! That’s another story. The trend has been widely challenged, and Philadelphia is no exception. Recently, the FDA was urged by lawmakers in Washington to reconsider a proposal that’d highly regulate vaping and e-cigarette sales. They wrote in a letter that the regulation could have devastating economic effects for small and medium-sized businesses that depend on e-cigarette sales, as the FDA proposed to eliminate many products not created by big tobacco companies.

On top of that, the city may have already sent more people toward Philly’s vape shops. In September, Mayor Michael Nutter instituted a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes being sold within city limits in order to help bring in much-needed funds to the city’s cash-strapped school district. Merchants across the city that sell the old-school cigs have said the new tax is pretty much a business-killer.

McGilloway said the tax that made cigarettes nearly $10 a pack is what drove him to quit — and Fanelli said more people have come in since the tax saying they’re done with smoking largely because of the new price tag. (However, councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown wants everyone to slow their roll — she’s planning a bill to tax vaping too.)

Last year, Nutter placed a citywide ban on vaping in restaurants, bars and public spaces, saying experts don’t yet know the long-term health effects of inhaling e-cigarette vapor either first or secondhand. But proponents of vaping say it’s a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes and shouldn’t be discouraged in Philadelphia, which has the highest rate of smoking among America’s largest cities at 25 percent of the adult population.

“The people of Philadelphia likely understand the benefits of switching to a smoke-free product,” said Gregory Conley, president of the New Jersey-based American Vaping Association. “The problem is the city’s bureaucracy certainly does not.”

Conley said that in August 2010 he quit smoking cigarettes “overnight” after trying out a watermelon-flavored e-cigarette, and has reaped countless benefits in his life as he vapes instead of smokes. He just wants city officials to stop discouraging smokers from vaping.

vaping

Concerns about the effects of e-cigarettes and vaping are rampant among the nation’s health community, as researchers wonder if the devices are an effective mode of helping smokers quit a deadly habit, or if they’re just breeding more nicotine addicts. E-cigarettes and vaping products do have nicotine in them — unlike cigarettes, however, consumers can actually vary the amount of nicotine in the vapor.

And the American Lung Association is not a fan of inhaling any kind of nicotine. The group really wants more research, because it’s not clear at all that the chemicals that vapors are inhaling are safe, or dangerous. It asserts that without FDA oversight or regulation, consumers should be wary of switching to vaping in favor of smoking.

But a large study completed last year in England showed that e-cigarette users attempting to quit smoking were about twice as likely to kick the habit as their patch and gum-using counterparts. Much of that can be attributed to the fact that vaping is a process very similar to smoking, whereas those quitting smoking using a patch or gum have to give up the inhalation that became a large part of their lives.

McGilloway, the newly-minted Philly vaping enthusiast, identifies with that. He used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, and as a delivery guy who relies on biking, he can now breathe easier.

“Out of my bike buddies, I was the last one to quit,” he said. “But it’s a big-time difference. I have more stamina, and I don’t get winded. But you still have to have that will to quit.”

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