The electronic cigarette.
E-cigarettes have massively grown in popularity over the past couple of years, with sales increasing from 50,000 in 2008 to over 3.5 million in 2012.
It has grown so much and so fast that it’s become a subculture phenomenon which has spawned vaping communities all over the world, including podcasts, blogs and magazines such as “Vape.”
E-cig “modders” (people who modify existing e-cig models) congregate online or join vaping meet-up groups and show off their latest “builds,” like hot-rod enthusiasts show off their cars.
The growing phenomenon has spread to Beeville in the form of an e-cigarette store, Piggy Vapes.
Paul and Crystal Gallagher, both vapers, opened up their shop Tuesday on 1800 N. St. Mary’s St.
“We wanted to bring something new and exciting to Beeville,” Crystal said. “And to enlighten people on what electronic cigarettes actually are.”
Paul added, “Electronic cigarettes are a tasty alternative to smoking.”
An added benefit is that no residual odor is left on or near the person, and there is no secondhand smoke. In fact, most electronic cigarettes smell really good.
Basically, the battery in the device heats up a coil which then vaporizes the liquid to be inhaled, which is just water vapor. Although it closely resembles traditional smoking from a distance, up close it’s completely changed the way people view what is often considered to be an ugly habit.
Rather than referring to it as smoking, it’s called vaping.
E-cigarettes have actually been around since 1963, when Herbert A. Gilbert patented a device described as “a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” that involved “replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist, flavored air.”
It died out a few years later only to resurface in China and eventually across Europe and then the United States.
It seems that the trend has been around in Beeville for some time, but the growing local vaping community had to travel to Victoria, Corpus Christi or San Antonio to get their e-juice (the liquid used for the device) or buy different set-ups.
Paul explained, “Basically, when customers come in here we sit them down, introduce them to the new flavors and go over their options as far as what fluid they would like.
“Then we go into talking about the actual electronic cigarette and how it works, how to clean it.
“It’s not disposable, so the only thing that they’ll actually have to continue to buy is the actual fluid itself and coils. And that’s pretty much it.”
For less than the price of a carton of cigarettes, customers can get their initial vape set-up. One bottle of e-juice lasts anywhere from one to two months, depending on the usage.
Piggy Vapes also has a tasting station at its counter so customers can pop in and try out all the flavors.
“We have about 22 different flavors,” Crystal added. “And in the near future there will probably be about 20 to 30 more.”
Those flavors come with and without nicotine for both the avid smoker and just the hobbyist.
Though many people use e-cigs as alternatives to smoking actual cigarettes, there’s a huge dividing line among regulators to determine if it’s actually a healthier option.
The amount of chemicals in e-cigs compared to many common cigarettes is drastically lower, but the FDA has yet to make any conclusions on regulatory options, leaving many states to create their own restrictions and further muddying the waters.
But one thing is for certain—it seems to work.
“All I can say is that it made me feel better after using it,” Paul said. “I went from a pack and a half a day to no cigarettes in less than a second.”
Crystal added, “I went from two packs a day to maybe five to eight cigarettes a day. Even on a drinking night, no more than half a pack a day.”
From the looks of it, the vape shop has been pretty busy since opening.
Paul remarked, “We’ve been open since Tuesday, and there’s been a pretty good response so far.”
“We’re already going to have to restock the shelves,” Crystal added, laughing.
And it’s more than just a shop to grab vaping gear and go.
“We created a lounge environment where people that just want to come in here and relax with us and talk about their vaping experience can do so,” Paul explained.
Though some local folk may see the shop as something more than it is, Crystal set the record straight. “We do not carry anything that has to do with a head shop. And we will not ever carry anything that has to do with a head shop.
“We are carding everyone. You have to be 18 years old to buy it because there is nicotine in some and even on the zero milligram ones, we are not selling them to minors.”
In just watching them interact with the customers, it’s noticeable that they are highly knowledgeable about their product and the culture of vaping, and they are always willing to answer any and all questions about their products.
“I love it,” Paul said. “I wouldn’t be selling them if I didn’t love it. I wouldn’t sell them if I didn’t think other people would love it.”
Yet, at the end of the day, there is still one question that hasn’t been answered and is surely on everyone’s mind—why is the shop called Piggy Vapes?
“Its called Piggy Vapes for two reasons,” Paul explained. “The first is a lot of people refer to their e-pipes as ‘Pigs.’ I don’t exactly know why.
“The second reason is because Crystal is obsessed with pigs. It sort of fit for her obsession with pigs.”
Piggy Vapes is located on 1800 N. St. Mary’s St. and is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., except on Tuesdays when it closes at 7 p.m. The store is also open on Sundays from noon until 5 p.m.
Paul Gonzales is the entertainment writer at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 116, or at thescene@mySouTex.com.