E-cigarette store opens in New Ulm

NEW ULM – A new electronic (e)-cigarette store, Blue Blaze Vapes, opened Monday morning at 206 N. Minnesota St.

A sign on the front door states that nobody under age 18 is allowed inside the store and photo identification must be shown for admittance. Those stipulations are among the few regulations for this emerging business.

Business owner Robb Zwakman of New Ulm, who works part time as a website editor, says he can undersell most e-cigarette retailers because he produces his own (e-juice) liquid solution that is vaporized in the battery-powered e-cigarettes that resemble large pens.

Open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and later if patrons want to stay, the store sells e-cigarette kits for beginners, intermediates and advanced users. Zwakman also sells homemade e-juice, and offers free Wi Fi. Lounge chairs and tables offer seating for customers. Coffee and a television will be available in the near future.

“I’ve got 27 flavors on hand and more new flavors and products are coming. I make them in my own off-site lab with natural and organic flavor extracts when I can – with and without nicotine,” Zwakman said. Flavors include pear, strawberry, black cherry, raspberry lemon, wintergreen, peppermint and some tobacco flavors. He is currently perfecting a banana creme-caramel flavor.

Zwakman said one of the interesting aspects of e-cigarettes is the ability to change their taste as the device is being used. “Some people like it with nicotine, some don’t,” he said.

A tobacco smoker for 32 years, Zwakman said e-cigarettes don’t give users the “run down” feeling tobacco does, and they are much less expensive than smoking tobacco. For example, a 15-milliliter container of the liquid solution that costs just under 10 dollars could last up to 10 days or so with daily use, according to Zwakman.

Evenings are the busiest times for the business so far. Zwakman views his business as a place for consumers to go for e-cigarettes instead of driving to Mankato, where the city council recently passed a number of ordinances prohibiting their use in public places such as malls and other public buildings.

There are currently no ordinances in New Ulm that negatively affect Blue Blaze Vapes.

Sleepy Eye ordinance

Earlier this month, after a presentation by American Lung Association Program Manager Ann Christensen, the Sleepy Eye City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance amending the 2007 Clean Indoor Air Act ordinance (statewide smoke-free law) to include e-cigarettes.

Christensen told the council e-cigarettes are being sold in mall kiosks near children’s stores and appearing in advertisements with Santa Claus. She said e-cigarettes are sometimes candy-flavored and sometimes contain the carcinogen nicotine that is more addictive than heroin and cocaine.

“The nicotine and other substances in e-cigarettes are not regulated and currently don’t meet the definition of “smoking” under Minnesota’s Clean Indoor Air Act. So using them in public places like bars and restaurants is not against the law yet in most places,” Christensen said. She urged cities and counties to update their indoor air regulation, including a ban on e-cigarettes, require stores and vapor lounges to be licensed as tobacco retailers and prohibit their use on city and county property.

Christensen advocated prohibiting e-cigarette sampling in stores and requiring disclosure of their ingredients. “Bottles of e-cigarette juice read that the contents are harmful or fatal if swallowed … I’m absolutely mortified these products are sold out there,” she told the Sleepy Eye City Council.

She said e-cigarettes are not proven smoking cessation devices. “To quit, the American Lung Association recommends using U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved lozenges or patches,” Christensen said. “The American Lung Association is researching e-cigarette emissions. Research shows carcinogens in the emissions.”

Safety concerns

In July 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended consumers not use e-cigarettes until a reputable, national regulatory body has found them safe and effective. A 2011 review stated that e-cigarettes may aid smoking cessation and are likely to be more effective than traditional pharmaceutical therapy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the FDA have stated concerns that e-cigarettes may increase addiction to and use of nicotine and tobacco products in children.

A 2013 CDC report on the 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey of 24,658 students found that while c-cigarette use among middle and high school students nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012, the use of some tobacco products were shown to have fallen over the same period.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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