JC Riggs had cigarette, pipe, cigar and chewing tobacco habits.
He'd tried everything under the sun to quit, he said, but 46-year-old habits are hard to shake.
He tried cold turkey.
He tried the patch, the smoking cessation drug Chantix and electronic cigarettes he bought in drugstores. No go.
Then he noticed a store called GNS Vapor at 4230 S. 33rd St.
Riggs traded tobacco for gummy bear, peppermint and blueberry Fruit Loops-flavored juices that contain nicotine. His e-cigarette warms the juice, turning it to vapor, and soon Riggs is puffing out clouds that taste and smell like blueberry Fruit Loops.
The plumes of white smoke might look like the stuff James Dean used to exhale, but nothing happens when these hit the senses. They just dissipate.
Gone in a puff of smoke -- just like Riggs' need for cigarettes.
Three former smokers who found their alternative in electronic cigarettes opened GNS Vapor. It didn't happen immediately for all of them, but eventually Jeremey Spencer and brothers Bob and Aaron Guenter made the switch to e-cigarettes.
But they weren't satisfied with the juices sold online, so they quit their jobs and opened the shop in August, unsure how the community would respond even though the electronic cigarette business is growing nationally.
In 2011, about 21 percent of adults who smoke traditional cigarettes had tried electronic smokes. That’s up from about 10 percent in 2010, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Had we not opened when we did, someone else would have,” Bob Guenter said.
The trend is growing faster than the market can be studied. The FDA said two weeks ago it plans to assert regulatory authority over e-cigarettes soon, but public health officials say they need to be studied more, The Associated Press reported.
Neither the city of Lincoln or the state of Nebraska regulates the purchase of electronic cigarettes by age, but Spencer said GNS Vapor sells only to people 18 or older.
They aren’t trying to get anyone hooked on nicotine, he said, and they offer juices that do not contain nicotine.
Until he opened his own shop, Bob Guenter had never been inside a brick-and-mortar vapor shop, he said. Most of the business was done online.
The GNS guys see electronic cigarettes as the digital age of smoking, and regular cigarettes as the analog.
Bob Guenter said he often compares the switch to e-cigarettes to someone using a computer for the first time. There’s a lot of new equipment, and people need help understanding how it works.
GNS Vapor has found a niche providing specialty juices, which are mixed in the shop. Customers can customize their flavors and decide how much nicotine they want added to their personal jar of juice.
The men did no advertising when GNS opened, and less than a year later they estimate 4,000 customers have walked through their door.
It's not uncommon for the line to stretch outside the door, Riggs said.
They sell juices in Omaha, York and Grand Island and plan to start selling in Las Vegas, Chicago and Montana, plus open another GNS Vapor store in Lincoln next month.
Spencer and the Guenters say the smell of real cigarettes makes them sick now, and the smoke tastes bad, nothing like the strawberry, raspberry and cucumber mint they’ve grown accustomed to.
Bob Guenter is amazed he ever liked the taste.
“How did I ever start smoking and smoke for 15 years?"
And the smell of cigarettes sticks to everything. Aaron Guenter said he understood now why his former co-workers used to give him a hard time for being a smoker.
“I was that guy,” he said. “I was the one that stunk.”
They’ve found their alternative and say they won't go back.
Said Bob Guenter: “Wait until the day someone asks you to bum a few drops of juice.”