Quitting smoking cigarettes was easy for Robert Jack.
A former pack-a-day smoker, the York Township resident started "vaping" in 2009.
An increasingly popular substitute for cigarette smoking, vaping is the act of smoking electronic cigarettes — aka personal vaporizers, or PVs — which vaporize a liquid solution and allow users to mimic the deep breathing and hand-to-mouth motion of smoking.
Jack owns The York Vape Shop by Azure Vaping in West Manchester Township and says vaping is a safe, effective way to kick the cigarette habit — and there's a growing community of people who are making the switch locally.
"I hear every day that people feel better," he said. "This is a choice that people are really enjoying."
Making the switch: A founding member of the White Rose Vapor Club, Jack made the decision to switch to vaping when he ordered a basic starter kit online.
"The same day I got it, I quit smoking," he said.
Quitting is undoubtedly tough for smokers: Studies show that most want to quit but aren't successful until their eighth try. Jack said vaping should be seen as an alternative to smoking. He said he does not try to entice people to vape who don't already smoke.
PVs come in hundreds of flavors, and the most popular at Jack's store is hypermint, he said. The second is caramel tobacco, and there are many sweet flavors, such as cotton candy, blueberry and Belgian waffle.
West York resident Kitty Lutman, who started vaping almost three years ago, prefers peach nectar — it tastes like the juice out of the bottom of a peach can, she said. A former half-pack-a-day smoker, she's only had about 10 cigarettes since she started vaping, she said.
But there is a downside: For the first two weeks, Lutman experienced quit symptoms as her lungs and sinuses cleared out, she said. The same symptoms happen when a tobacco user quits cold turkey.
Aside from those symptoms, she said she can climb stairs easier, feels better and is generally happier.
"There's a very strong community behind all of vaping ... Everybody wants to share this thing they found," Lutman said.
Another advocate: After getting into vaping in 2011, Michael Curry, a former two-pack-a-day smoker, said he hasn't smoked a cigarette since.
"It's completely changed my life," the Hanover resident said.
After selling from kiosks around the area, Curry opened Life Smoke Vapors in Springettsbury Township.
The company's app shows "quit stats" for a user, including the number of cigarettes not smoked and money saved. He said PVs cost one-fifth the price of regular smokes and save consumers tons of money. Beginners can start out for about $40 to $50, plus about $1 a day for the juice that goes inside.
When Curry made the switch, he said he also noticed positive changes in his health, such as his breathing, physical endurance and improved taste and smell.
PVs also contain addictive nicotine, a stimulant similar to caffeine, which isn't necessarily harmful by itself. Not all contain it, and those that do can be adjusted to alter the amount. When switching over, many cigarette smokers use both tobacco and vaping, but Curry said within a couple days, he didn't need to.
"I was blown away by how easy it was," he said.
Not approved: The FDA has not approved vaping as a safe or effective method to help smokers quit. That's why Marie Drawbaugh, tobacco treatment specialist for WellSpan Health, said doesn't recommend PVs to smokers and would rather them use FDA-regulated gums and patches.
Although vaping is becoming increasingly popular, its long-term outcomes are not yet known, Drawbaugh said.
"I don't think we really know yet whether there are positives to it," she said.
Because PVs contain nicotine, they are not considered a tobacco cessation product, she said. Vaping is banned at York, Memorial and Hanover hospitals — inside and outside — as part of their tobacco-free policies.
Pam Miller, tobacco cessation educator at Memorial Hospital, said she tries to recommend the seven products that are currently FDA-approved for quitting.
"I don't recommend (vaping)," she said in an email. "At the same time, I educate the patient about it, and also it is a behavior change, which is good."
But Adam Bennett, tobacco cessation coordinator at Hanover Hospital, said he lets his patients know vaping is a very real alternative to traditional burned cigarettes.
"It is one option if they choose to use it, but it does carry potential for risk," he said.
Knowing that there are more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes and much fewer in PVs, vaping is less harmful when you weigh the two apples-to-apples, he said. Bennett said that, until more research trickles out, those interested in vaping should talk to their physicians to weigh the pros and cons.
"There may be a spot at the table for vaping," he said.
Looking forward: Curry said he believes once FDA research comes out, it and other organizations are going to approve of PVs.
"I tend to think in the future, we're gonna see a lot of associations in the future really taking to them," he said.
Jack predicts that in five to 10 years, there will be more vapers than smokers in the country and worldwide. In the last four years, it has gone from a niche market of tens of thousands of users to millions of users, he said.
Jack spoke in front of the FDA in December 2012 about new technology for combating tobacco. He's a member of AEMSA, which is directly involved in helping set standards for the juice that goes in PVs.
"We actually want certain forms of regulation in our industry," he said. "It's kind of the wild west out there."
— Reach Mollie Durkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.