By Evan Webster
Richard Moquin started smoking when he was 12 years old. Today, the 57-year-old Navy veteran needs nicotine the same way he needs air and water. But he hasn’t had a cigarette in four years.
“Once you start vaping, there’s no turning back,” said Moquin. “It gives educated adults the freedom of choice to quit smoking, while still being able to enjoy recreational nicotine.”
Moquin is a strong advocate for the use of personal vapourizers, or e-cigarettes, as an alternative to traditional smoking. His online store features a variety of vapourizers, ranging from $50-$100 apiece.
How it works
Personal vapourizers deliver nicotine to the user in a much safer way than burning tobacco smoke. Within the device, an electric coil heats a liquid solution of nicotine, glycerine, and flavouring, producing an inhalable vapour.
Vaping is considered safer than smoking because vapour does not include any of the deadly carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. There’s no combustion involved, so vapour is not smoke. It’s more like flavoured steam. Modern vapourizers, like the ones shown above, have been around since 2005.
Vaping at Bearly’s
Jim Iatrou is the owner of Bearly’s House of Blues on Barrington Street. He has nothing against customers vaping inside. On the last Saturday of every month, Moquin and his community of ex-smokers gather at Bearly’s to socialize and enjoy some vapour.
Establishments like Bearly’s can permit or prohibit vaping on their own terms. For Iatrou, letting people vape inside was a smart business decision.
“When smoking was banned in public places, it affected our industry,” said Iatrou. “Allowing vaping is a way of getting people in the bar.”
Unlike cigarette smoke, second-hand vapour is both scentless and harmless to a non-smoker. Moquin says public sanctuaries like Bearly’s are crucial for educating the world about vaping.
“It’s about public exposure,” said Moquin. “We embrace these establishments to show the folks that yeah, there is an alternative to the deadly tobacco smoking routine.”
Health Canada steps in
In 2009, Health Canada placed personal vapourizers and their nicotine juice under the Food and Drugs Act. Vaping products fall into a legal grey area. They’re not approved for sale, but they’re not banned either.
According to a recent pro-vaping column in the National Post, this is rarely enforced during the race for regulation. Vendors like Moquin have emerged both online and in retail, and they’re all still waiting for approval.
Kyle Kurts, 52, has been vaping for seven months. In October he launched Smokeless Nova Scotia, a vapourizer boutique on Kempt Road. For safety and purity, Kurts wants to see his product regulated just like any other substance.
“E-cigarettes should be regulated in terms of how the juices are produced,” said Kurts. “It’s no different than tobacco or alcohol.”
Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine is worried about vaping in his province. A November 2013 article from CBC outlines Glavine’s fear that vaping will “undermine” the goal of a smoke-free society. But Kurts insists that his product helps rather than harms.
“I have no interest in selling to minors or non-smokers,” said Kurts. “My customers are committed nicotine addicts looking for a safer method of delivery.”
While Health Canada ponders its approach to vapourizers, the vaping community is growing and smokers are making the switch. At Bearly’s last Saturday, the crowd ranged from people who’ve been vaping for years to rookies who just gave up cigarettes.
“When folks switch to the vapourizer, there’s one less smoker out there,” said Moquin. “And that’s a good thing.”
Health Canada is expected to release its official policy towards vaping products soon.
Why it’s important
When Moquin was smoking, he tried to quit many times. The most effective method was laser therapy, which got him through just five smoke-free weeks. But once Moquin turned to the vapourizer, he never looked back.
[pullquote]”It saves lives. Period” – Richard Moquin [/pullquote]
“Every single one of us here is just one cigarette away from going back to two packs a day,” said Moquin. “That’s a fact. That’s why we vape.”
For Kurts, nothing is more satisfying than steering someone away from cigarettes permanently. For so many smokers, his store is the first step on the road to quitting, and he enjoys watching each personal journey unfold.
“The change in that person is absolutely amazing,” said Kurts. “They tell me anecdotally that they feel better, but you can see it in their bearing. People have their heads held up a little higher. They feel better about themselves.”
The debate over personal vapourizers continues to rage. To ex-smokers like Moquin, the nicotine juice is medicine. Matt Richtel in the New York Times calls it “poison by the barrel.”
But there’s no denying that vaping has grown into a popular smoking alternative. As a result, Health Canada is feeling the pressure to regulate more than ever.
Once a month at Bearly’s, Moquin takes charge of the Halifax vaping community. Smokers, non-smokers, quitters, and first time vapour users are all invited to relax, share stories, meet new people and learn.
Even though it’s not yet regulated, vaping is the only thing keeping Moquin and his crew off cigarettes. In the fight against smoking, that’s all that matters.
“It saves lives,” said Moquin. “Period.”