Steve Johnson, owner of Little Havana Tobacco in Anoka, stopped selling conventional cigarettes in May in anticipation of the cigarette tax hike. His store, primarily a high-end cigar shop, added a small case of e-cigarettes in July. Johnson said it now accounts for 15 percent of his business. The profit margins on e-cigs are around 100 percent.
Johnson said he initially saw strong growth in his e-cig sales. It’s slowed recently as so many other stores have opened in the area.
“Everyone with a dream and $5,000 is opening a shop,” he said.
Unlike some of the newer e-cig start-ups, Johnson said he doesn’t mess around the juice. He buys it prepackaged from a supplier in North Carolina.
Johnson, who said he generally frowns on overregulation, said he does see the value in the government overseeing what chemicals go into e-cigs and how they’re mixed.
“Do you really want the genius behind the counter mixing this?” he asked.
E-cigarettes haven’t been extensively studied for health effects.
“There is still a lot we don’t know about these products, including whether they will decrease or increase use of traditional cigarettes,” Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a written statement.
Although e-cigarettes appear to have far fewer of the toxins found in smoke than traditional cigarettes do, their effect on long-term health must be studied, the CDC says.
One thing the agency can track is a steep uptick in use. About 6 percent of all adults have tried e-cigs. That’s doubled since 2010.
The percentage of high school students who reported ever using an e-cigarette rose from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012. Use also doubled among middle school students. According to the CDC, 1.78 million middle and high school students nationwide sampled e-cigarettes in 2012.
The American Lung Association has lined up against electronic cigarettes, saying they are not proven smoking-cessation devices.
“We are advocating the FDA to step up. Right now, it’s in limbo. It’s the Wild West in terms of retail shops opening up, the type of information going out and the claims being made,” said Robert Moffitt, spokesman for the American Lung Association in Minnesota.
Currently, the FDA regulates electronic cigarettes only if they make a therapeutic claim; most not do not.
The FDA is moving to release for public comment a proposed rule to regulate additional categories of tobacco products.
“Further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes and other novel tobacco products,” said an FDA spokeswoman.