On Sunday afternoon, many of the customers who came into Lincoln Vapor browsed the selection of e-cigarettes for sale and then took a seat on a wraparound black leather couch.
Beneath a framed image of Albert Einstein, they sampled some of the flavors included in about 70 eyedropper-sized containers in two three-tiered carousels on the table.
This is Lincoln Vapor’s e-juice lounge, and co-owner Greg Kimble said it’s been a popular feature since the store opened at 4011 O St. on Oct. 11. There are sodas and bottled water for sale at Lincoln Vapor, a TV on the wall and two lime-colored leather chairs alongside the couch.
But the main appeal of the lounge is to sample the array of flavored juices that contain nicotine, the e-juices.
In the first few weeks of business, Kimble said he’s seen some people lounge for upward of two hours. Most spend far less time on the couch, selecting a bottle or two from perhaps five of the flavors that looked appealing to them.
“They’re just sitting there, trying all the flavors,” Kimble said.
Big Red Vapor Pleasures, 4640 Bair Ave., Suite 108, opened Sept. 23 and features a vaping lounge as well. Owner Chad Svoboda said some of his customers spend about an hour or so.
Though Lincoln health officials recently aired concerns about e-cigarette use in bars and other public places, Svoboda and Kimble both said their lounges weren't built in the event of possible regulation elsewhere. Svoboda said the lounge at his shop has become a gathering place for "vapers."
“They just like to hang out in our lounge area, talk vape and watch TV,” Svoboda said. “It’s kind of a unity, a group sort of thing."
The group's getting bigger. A recent New York Times story listed the sales figures for e-cigarettes and vaping products at $1.7 billion annually. Though interest in the products is increasing rapidly, Kimble said many of the people who come into Lincoln Vapor are asking beginner’s level questions about the devices.
“People have no knowledge base,” he said.
The purpose of the lounge setting is to show potential customers what all is available to them. The juices, many of which are modeled after candy or fruit flavors, contain different levels of nicotine (or none at all).
On Sunday, Austin Hempfling, 20, and Allison Fowler, 19, browsed the offerings in one of the two carousels. After tasting a few, Hempfling settled on green apple and watermelon rancher flavors to go along with his first e-cigarette.
Hempfling said he started smoking a couple of months ago at a particularly stressful time and is hoping to quit by way of vaping.
Public health officials have noted that using e-cigarettes doesn’t involve tar ingestion, like smoking, but remain concerned about the health effects of vaping. The World Health Organization, for instance, says the safety of e-cigarettes has not been scientifically proven nor has the e-cigarette’s effectiveness as a means to quit smoking tobacco products. More long-term research needs to be conducted to address both issues, the WHO concludes.
It worked for Kimble, who said he no longer smokes cigarettes, and several people who testified at a Nebraska Legislature's General Affairs Committee hearing this month on e-cigarettes said the same thing.
Kimble said he's expecting more regulation in the e-cigarette industry, though he doesn't expect governing bodies to move fast in doing so. The Nebraska State Legislature is considering a law banning the sales of the products to minors, and the National Association of Attorneys General recently wrote a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration calling on the regulating body to ban e-cigarette sales to minors and to forbid e-juice makers from flavoring their products with fruit or candy combinations "that are appealing to youth."
Lincoln Vapor co-owner Logan Koll said the store isn't marketing to kids, and noted that the store prohibits minors from trying or buying products there, even the non-nicotine ones.