GALLIPOLIS – Jeff Smith’s new business in Gallipolis is all about “respecting the journey.”
That journey, he said, is getting people to quit cigarettes while still getting the nicotine they crave.
Smith, originally from Ironton, recently opened Select-A-Vapor, a new store in Gallipolis that caters to the growing number of people who are “vaping,” or those who inhale and exhale water vapor produced by a personal electronic device, or a vaporizer.
The person using the device inhales liquid, also called an e-liquid, that is heated by a coil inside the electronic device. That, in turn, creates a vapor that is inhaled and exhaled, delivering a predetermined amount of nicotine without all of the other thousands of carcinogens that scientists have noted in traditional cigarettes.
While the jury may still be out concerning its long-term health effects, one thing is clear: Vaping helped Smith kick the cigarette habit.
“I smoked for 39 years,” he said. “I worked construction for 29 years. While on a job site in Wilmington, N.C., I noted many of the workers vaping. I thought, ‘What is this?’ Six months into the job, I walked into a vapor shop, asked a bunch of questions, and bought a starter kit for about $80 with two bottles of liquid.
“I haven’t smoked a cigarette since.”
Smith said he routinely smoked two to three packs of cigarettes per day, but lit up for the last time on May 5, 2013 at 10 a.m.
“It took me two days, but I totally quit smoking,” he said. “It was the second morning after buying the starter kit.”
That’s when Smith began thinking about leaving the construction business and getting into ownership of his own business.
“I thought if this worked for me, it’s going to work for other people,” he said.
Smith opened his first store Russell, Ky., in early 2013. He said the business was so successful it allowed him to open a second store in Barboursville, W.Va., later that year.
In early 2014, Smith opened his third store in South Point, followed by the recent opening of the Gallipolis location. All told, Smith employs 16 people at his stores, which is about four people at each location, with room to grow as the business succeeds.
Smith said owning his own businesses take up much more of his time these days.
“I worked 40-hour weeks in construction. Now I work 12- to 14-hour days, seven days a week,” he said. “If I get off work at 7 p.m. on a Sunday, that’s taking off early.”
But the satisfaction he receives from listening to his vapor-inhaling customers makes it worth the time and effort.
“It’s satisfying when a 60-year-old woman comes in and says it’s been three weeks since she’s touched a cigarette,” he said. “If you can make it three days, you can make it. If you can make it three weeks, you’re there.”
The aforementioned e-liquids come packaged in different nicotine strengths categorized in milligrams: ultra-light (6 mg), medium (12 mg), regular (18 mg), and strong (24 mg). There is even 0 milligrams which contains no nicotine for those who just want to vape minus the nicotine hit.
Stronger nicotine will result in a stronger throat sensation commonly known in the vaping world as a “throat hit” or “kick.” It depends on the individual user and how much nicotine they want.
“If I’m a two-pack-a-day smoker, I’ll need that high nicotine,” Smith said. “When you help a customer convert over to vaping, we’ll start ‘em high and get them off the cigarettes. After a few weeks or months, people can start stepping down on the nicotine level.
“(Smoking is) a hand-to-mouth mental habit. That’s all it is.”
The liquids come in varying flavors. Smith keeps a “menu” in the store that lists all of the flavors they sell. Some include weird names such as “Puppy Drool,” “Tiger’s Blood” and “Dragon Fruit,” along with more traditional flavors such as peppermint, grape, cherry, fruit punch, apple pie (Smith’s favorite) and more.
Smith emphasized that his store will not sell to anyone younger than 18 years of age.
“We’re not doing this to attract kids,” he said. “We want to target the people who are 30 and older, the people who know they have to quit smoking cigarettes.”
In fact, there is a large sign on the entrance door that specifically states no sales are allowed to anyone younger than 18. That also goes for parents who intend to buy for their child.
“If you come in and we know you’re here to buy for a minor, we can’t sell the product to you, either,” he said. “Some folks will get to huffing and puffing about it — sometimes worse than a child — but they leave. I agree that vaping is less harmful (than smoking), but we can’t support children vaping who are in high school. If I catch an employee selling (to a minor), they’re going to be looking for another job. We are very strict about that.”
It all goes back, Smith said, to respecting the journey.
“We’re not here to get rich, just trying to make a living and help people kick the smoking habit,” he said.
There will be a grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony from noon to 2 p.m. June 25 at Select-A-Vapor, 612 Silver Bridge Plaza, in Gallipolis. Cornfed’s Smokehouse and Grill, of Point Pleasant, will be on site serving barbecue sandwiches, hot dogs and French fries.
Select-A-Vapor is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sundays.
Reach Michael Johnson at 740-446-2342, ext. 2102, or on Twitter @OhioEditorMike.