E-cigarette retailers have boosted their presence in Billings, even as a cloud of stricter federal regulation hangs over the $2 billion industry.
Last month, two new “vaping” shops opened up on the West End: the Vape Shop at 3210 Henesta Drive, Suite H; and U-Blaze Vapor in the Rimrock Mini Mall at 111 S. 24th St.
The city’s first shop, the former Volcano E-Cigs, expanded its selection and changed its name to B-Town Vapes in April. And tobacco shops around town are adding stock of e-cigarettes and nicotine juices to meet the new demand.
“They became really popular, really fast. A lot of people are using them to quit smoking, but a lot are using them … because they’re fun,” said Chris Hardman, Vape Shop manager.
“Vape” is short for vapor, which is created when users heat and inhale the liquid juice with a modular device and blow it out. It usually contains nicotine but not the tar or other harmful substances found in traditional cigarettes, which is why vaping advocates claim their product is a less dangerous alternative.
Health experts aren’t convinced and say the products need more study. They also question advocates’ claims that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking and an effective cessation aid.
The Food and Drug Administration announced in April its first proposed restrictions on the fast-growing industry. Sales to children younger than 18 and free samples would be banned. The FDA would oversee all manufacturing and marketing and require companies to label juices with their ingredients.
Analysts aren’t sure if the proposed regulations will raise prices, but they’re far less restrictive than e-cigarette sellers feared. In Billings, merchants said they’re following most of these rules anyway, and they’re glad to see stricter standards.
“Most companies that are responsible and are doing good are doing exactly what the FDA wants them to do. I think it’s more weeding out the people that shouldn’t be selling it in the first place,” said Brianna Goff, who owns B-Town Vapes.
In Montana, regulators have not banned indoor vaping, but individual businesses have taken it upon themselves to restrict the activity.
Goff, 36, said she started Volcano Vapes about two years ago after she used e-cigarettes to successfully kick her longtime smoking habit. Because of high demand, she said she added more brands in addition to Volcano and changed the name of her store inside the Doc and Eddy’s banquet room.
“For our customers, we wanted to make them happy,” she said.
About four miles to the west, owner Rick Jensen decided to open the Vape Shop after finding success with his first store in his native Logan, Utah. A smoker for more than four decades, Jensen said vaping helped him quit two years ago. Billings, he said, is a big market begging for more vape shops.
“I’ve found people that start vaping, (and) that’s all they talk about,” Jensen said.
The Vape Shop sells more than two dozen juice flavors, some containing as much as 28 percent nicotine and others with none. The most popular is cantaloupe/honey dew.
The store also sells vaping mods from $40 up to $140, along with batteries.
Jensen said the rise of e-cigarettes is making traditional manufacturers nervous.
“It’s all about big tobacco. We’re hurting them and they’re the ones that are pushing regulations,” Jensen said.
Down but not out
Fear not, sugar lovers: Candy Town USA is closed for now, but not for long.
The Shiloh Crossing sweet shop at Billings’ West End shut down in the beginning of May for remodeling, but the owners expect to reopen around Memorial Day weekend.
According to the city of Billings, the shop will undergo a $140,000 renovation to improve the space at 820 Shiloh Crossing Blvd. The owners say they are planning to boost their candy selection and ice cream flavors, prepare fresh caramel corn and increase walking space for customers.
Olive oil shop
You don’t have to go to the Mediterranean peninsula to get quality olive oil.
The Spiked Olive opened at 1313 Grand Ave., in the Evergreen Plaza in Billings last month. The shop sells ultra premium olive oils and vinegar, which, according to experts, is the top shelf of the product.
Owner Gina Ceartin said in a news release that she also sells pasta and other products at the store.
Haikus from the valley
Look out below, folks
The Rims, they are a-rockin’