Published: 00:01, 08 August 2014
This Saturday sees the opening of east Kent’s first e-cigarette café, Vape Elite, on Broadstairs High Street.
Part coffee shop, part store selling e-liquids and accessories, owner Sean Donnellan hopes the business will become a meeting place for seasoned vapers and curious converts alike.
Although e-cigarettes are not currently approved by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Sean is convinced vaping can help people quit.
The 24-year-old entrepreneur was inspired to start the business after weaning his Mum off a 30-a-day smoking habit.
“My mum smoked for about 35 years. Every morning I’d wake up and hear this really chesty cough.
“I said: ‘give e-cigs a go’. She went through all these different flavours and didn’t get on with them, but then I found a Golden Virginia flavour – the brand she smoked.
“Now she’s down to one cigarette a day and the cough has gone. That for me is black and white.”
Critics of vaping argue the process can work in reverse, offering non-smokers a gateway to cigarettes.
But Sean is adamant that curious non-smokers will be politely turned away - and he will not be selling to under 18s.
“Our logo is make the change, not make the start. Before selling anything I ask people what they smoke.
"And if you came in one day and said, ‘actually Sean, I fancy giving up’, with e-liquid you could start on 18mg of nicotine, and drop the strength down to 12mg to see how you get on.
“I’ve had customers in my old store over a six week period drop from 18mg to zero. That, for me, is amazing.”
Sean’s previous shop was in Manchester where he says vaping is common. But for Broadstairs, he decided to do something different.
He said: “I didn’t think a standalone shop would work, so that’s when I thought about the coffee shop approach. I think it fits in with Broadstairs – it’s got that village vibe.
“I didn’t want it tucked away down some back street. There’s nothing to be ashamed of - why not promote it?”
E-cigarettes work by heating a small amount of nicotine-rich e-liquid that evaporates forming a vapor which users inhale.
It is legal in most public places though some prominent employers - including the BBC - have banned staff vaping at their desks. And with an estimated 2.1 million people regularly vaping in the UK and the numbers growing each year, more employers and public bodies are having to decide where they stand.
Melissa Edmond, a solicitor specialising in employment law at Furley Page Solicitors, says often it is simply easier for employers to impose a blanket ban.
"In industries such as the leisure industry or retail an employer may be concerned about their professional image and not like the idea of customers and clients coming across their employees puffing again on their e-cigarettes,” she said.
“The health issue is a big one. It's just not known really whether there's side effects for the actual user or whether the second-hand vapour would potentially cause health issues for others.
“Even if it's sort of got a fruity smell it's probably not ideal if it could potentially have toxins in it. Other arguments against it might be that it could make it more difficult for people to stop smoking if they're having to see people puffing on the e-cigarettes.”
But for Sean, there is no question vaping is part of the solution.
He points out that all the ingredients of e-liquid - which he makes and sells to other retailers - are legal and readily available on the internet.
He said: “People will still go out and buy these products because there’s nothing illegal about any of them. There’s no stopping anyone doing it themselves.”
And for dedicated vapers, a do-it-yourself subculture has emerged with enthusiasts mixing their own liquids, discussing flavours and even designing their own e-cigarettes.
Sean said: “There are a lot of vapers who want to come in and talk about their mods and the different flavours of e-liquid. It’s not like smoking. No one discusses the cigarettes they’re smoking.
"The vape scene is huge – you’ve got all the liquids, you’ve got people on starter kits, you’ve got people with £200 modifications to their e-cigarettes – I’m serious. You’ve got people who build their own, wire them up, put the cotton wool in. It gets really interesting and a bit technical.
“It goes from smoking to a hobby, which is pretty cool.”
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