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E-Cigarette Stores Growing in Popularity in Milwaukee

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LaToya Dennis
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A number of so called vape shops have been opening in Milwaukee.

They sell accessories for electronic cigarettes. Things like e-juice, the flavored substance that goes into e-cigarettes, and the devices that vaporize it. Electronic cigarettes are growing in popularity, while health and financial concerns remain.

Milwaukee’s Third Ward is full of trendy boutiques. There are those that sell clothes and jewelry and art, and now…

“Vaping in Progress is a store in the Third Ward dedicated to vaping or the high end portion of e-cigarettes," owner Frank Paris says.

It’s clear his shop’s target clientele is on the younger side. Hip hop music feeds through the stereo system and there’s a glass display of Jordan tennis shoes. Paris says when he opened his place, there were no other vape shops in the city, but that soon changed.

“After five, six months of being here, there have been several stores opening left and right,” Paris says.

Perfect example, two miles down the road, Infinite Vapor opened about a month ago. Christopher Kern is the assistant manager. He says the Milwaukee area is like prime real estate.

“The community out here is very educated already with vaping. There’s a lot of people that already switched from smoking traditional cigarettes to the e-cigarettes or vapor. It’s really a progressive community,” Kern says.

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Credit LaToya Dennis
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E-juice setup at Infinite Vapor

Kern estimates the shop sees at least 20 customers a day.

Customer Robert Jakubek came in to get a drip tip and some juice. "It’s just basically a pathway from the atomizer to your mouth, basically it’s like a connection,” Jakubek says.

“My favorite flavor would be Dragon Breathe. I like the honey after taste,” he says.

Jakubek says he began vaping a year ago, when he was 18. But before that, he did not smoke. 

It seems other customers have. Behind Christopher Kern at the counter hangs a black and white t-shirt with a very clear message printed on it. Use your imagination and insert a four letter expletive, followed by the words big tobacco.

“A lot of our customers are smokers, previous smokers. And then some of our customers are also people who are looking for hookah kind of thing. Kind of more of a hangout kind of thing,” Kern says.

The growing popularity of e-cigarettes has a lot to do with people thinking they’re safer than traditional smokes, according to Dr. Douglas Jorenby. He’s director of clinical services for the UW Madison Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention.

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Credit LaToya Dennis
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E-cigarette paraphernalia

“People have looked at cigarettes, the fact that when they’re used as directed they kill somewhere between a half and a third of the people who use them on an ongoing basis," Jorenby says. "And then people are comparing that to e-cigarettes, which appear to be delivering the nicotine that keeps people coming back to traditional tobacco products without the tar and carcinogens and carbon monoxide that comes from smoking."

Jorenby says the truth is that e-cigarettes are so new, no one’s been able yet to study their long term health effects. He says there are questions about certain chemical reactions involving the juice that goes into e-cigarettes.

“Propylene Glycol or vegetable glycerin, I was just looking at a study a couple weeks ago that indicates that when those substances are heated, particularly to the high temperatures some of the more powerful vaporizers use, they can produce irritants and high levels of formaldehyde,” Jorenby says.

Jorgenby says what’s been astounding is watching the rate at which people are trying or moving solely over to e-cigarettes.

“In terms of the overall market, this was something that just a few years ago really didn’t even exist. And now you’re talking about over $2 billion in sales in just the U.S,” Jorgenby says.

To put that $2 billion in perspective, the tobacco industry spent more than four times that amount in U.S. advertising alone in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

One financial concern states across the country have related to e-cigarette use, is that it may cause states to collect less in tobacco taxes. Wisconsin needs that money to pay off about $1.5 billion to investors. They provided cash to Wisconsin and other states in the 1990s, after they successfully sued the tobacco industry to cover the health costs of smokers. The states wanted all the money upfront to plug budget holes, but now they need to repay the investors who provided the cash. Wisconsin will need at least until the year 2027 to pay off those bonds.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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