LOCKPORT – Ramy Betouni was a smoker for 15 years but says he kicked the habit with the help of electronic cigarettes.
The device, which can resemble an actual cigarette, runs on a battery and is designed to deliver nicotine, fruit flavors and other chemicals by turning them into an aerosol that can be inhaled. The electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes Betouni smoked – or “vaped” – back in 2008 helped him to quit smoking and inspired him to start selling them.
After running the Vapor Cabin online since 2008, he decided to open up a shop at 116 E. Ninth St. in Lockport on June 3.
“This is made for people who are trying to quit,” he said about the product. “This is realistically for the over-30 who smoked for a while, who grew up and says, ‘You know, I want to be healthy and live long and I want to have kids and provide for them.’ ”
Studies show use of e-cigarettes has grown, but so have certain problems associated with the product.
Betouni’s vapor shop is the latest one in Will County that sells the product exclusively. Even though many sellers and users attest to the product’s safety and healthiness, some health experts remain skeptical. After years of being unregulated, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials announced in April a proposal to extend its authority over additional products such as e-cigarettes.
The jury is still out on whether e-cigarettes are healthier than cigarettes, said Brian King, a researcher with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Smoking and Health. And while many people say e-cigarettes help them quit, current research is not conclusive on whether they can, he said.
E-cigarettes are not without health risks.
“There are a lot of different ingredients that have been identified as hazardous or potentially hazardous,” he said.
Some of those hazardous ingredients can include formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. They can also include nicotine – an addictive substance found in regular cigarettes – that can have an adverse effect on adolescent brain development and the health of pregnant women, he said.
The CDC has warned about the health risks associated with liquid nicotine found in e-cigarettes in the past. According to an April 3 CDC study, the number of calls to poison centers nationwide involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose from one call a month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014.
Betouni said much of the controversy surrounding e-cigarettes is up in the air. The research should be done first before people criticize the product, he said. Still, he said, he doesn’t think e-cigarettes are unhealthy since it uses the same flavor ingredients found in strawberry cupcakes and lemonade.
“My body tells me it’s fine,” he said. “I wake up and I don’t have a heavy chest. I can go up a flight of stairs without being winded. You feel better.”
Brent Duke, owner of Chicago-based 21 Century Smoking, has a Joliet store devoted exclusively to e-cigarettes. Duke said many customers seek e-cigarettes because they are more convenient to use than a cigarette.
“Some people are looking to switch over and others are looking to cut back and others are looking to smoke indoors,” he said.
There is some worry about youths using e-cigarettes, especially if they are serving as an entry point for tobacco products. A CDC study last September found the use of e-cigarettes among U.S. middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012.
Betouni said his shop doesn’t sell e-cigarettes to customers under 18. While many youths might find them cool to use, he said, it’s more of a tool for people to either quit or smoke healthier. E-cigarettes are not meant for children, he said.
“I think we would have less issues in general with the government getting involved if they weren’t in it,” he said.