For Stephen Pursche, vaping has been a life changer.
“The day my daughter was born, I quit smoking cigarettes. The only way I found I was able to do it was through vaping,” said Pursche, who was a pack-a-day smoker for 20 years, about quitting smoking four years ago. “I tried to quit in the past with the patch, gum and Chantix, and I even went as far as trying hypnosis. Nothing worked, but vaping did”
Pursche, a 1995 graduate of Johnston High School, took a leap of faith last year and went into business for himself. He’s now the proud owner of the I Vape store on Warwick Avenue in Warwick, right next to Picasso’s restaurant. While the venture was a major life change for both himself and his family, Pursche has successfully made it through his first year and is optimistic about his company’s future. He’s also hoping to dispel some of the misconceptions he says surrounds vaping and the industry.
“Right from the beginning, I found that I took vaping much further than just a cog to quit smoking. I really got into the hobby side of it, the enthusiast side of it, and I ended up teaching myself pretty much everything there was to know about the different e-liquids, the different devices, battery safety and more,” said Pursche.
For those who may be unfamiliar, vaping is inhaling and exhaling an aerosol, often referred to as vapor, that has been produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device. The term vaping is used because the devices do not produce a smoke similar to that given off by a cigar or cigarette but rather an aerosol, often mistaken for water vapor. Vaping has grown in popularity since the early 2000s.
A vaping instrument consists of a mouthpiece, a battery, and a cartridge for containing what’s called an e-liquid or e-juice, which contains nicotine, as well as a heating component powered by a battery. Some e-juices contain no nicotine at all. When used, the heating component turns the contents of the e-liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs.
For more than 15 years, Pursche worked in the corporate world. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from Rhode Island College, he worked in sales and consultative customer service.
“I always felt there was something missing. You get to the point where you wake up for work and feel like you have to go do something again that you don’t want to do,” said Pursche. “So I felt that vaping had helped me, and I think it can really help a lot of people quit smoking. So I talked with my wife and said, ‘This is kind of what I’m thinking about doing.’”
Finding support from his wife, Natarcia, with whom he just celebrated his 12th wedding anniversary, Pursche went to work to build a business. He said he cashed in every dollar he’d saved in his 401(k), rolled the dice and opened his shop.
Pursche said that the work has been hard and time-consuming with long store hours. All told, he puts in about 80 hours a week managing the store, while still trying to find time for his 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. He added that everything else about running the business is easier and comes naturally to him. Pursche also hopes to add an employee or two within the next year or so to help maintain the business and satisfy customers.
“I’m a little humbled by where I am for only being here a year. I’ve built up a pretty steady clientele with repeat customers,” he said, adding that he’s gotten great online reviews. “It kind of reaffirms that I’m kind of doing what I’m meant to be doing. I’m helping people quit smoking, and it’s something that could potentially save someone’s life at some point, including my own.”
According to Pursche, the first vaporizing device came out around 1996. From a health perspective, he said he looks at studies both here in the United States and internationally for answers.
“I firmly believe that big tobacco puts a lot of propaganda out there, because they are getting beat up by this. Their numbers over the last couple of years have decreased far past normal fluctuations,” he said.
He cites the Royal College of Physicians in London, which completed a study of smoking versus vaping showing that e-cigarettes appear to be effective when used by smokers as an aid to quitting smoking. The study also found that the hazard to health arising from long-term vapor inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco through traditional means. Pursche looks at vaping as “harm reduction” when compared to smoking.
“The best thing in the world would be, as a human being, to do nothing at all. But let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen for some people,” said Pursche. “The American Cancer Society [ACS] has just stated that vaping is a better alternative to cigarette smoking, and that, to me, is huge.”
A position released by the ACS in February stated that, “Based on currently available evidence, using current generation e-cigarettes is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but the health effects of long-term use are not known. The American Cancer Society recognizes our responsibility to closely monitor and synthesize scientific knowledge about the effects of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and any new products derived from tobacco.”
Pursche added that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is making a push to do away with vaping. He said certain cities have banned flavoring of e-juices, which would be devastating for the industry and his company. E-juices come in hundreds of flavors, including regular tobacco flavoring.
“The only people who vape tobacco flavoring are people who are just starting to transition,” said Pursche. He hopes that politicians stop trying to ban flavoring and recognize that vaping is a potentially safer alternative. He applauds the work of lobbyist groups that fight on the industry’s behalf in keeping businesses like his alive.
“Tomorrow, we could get a law where there’s no more flavors allowed. If that happens, it could be the end of the business,” he said. “This could be saving people’s lives. If you take that away big tobacco wins again.”
While the e-cigarette devices are mostly made in China, the e-juices and their ingredients are made in America, typically produced in certified and FDA approved clean rooms. Prices for liquids begin at $24.99 and up depending on size. Also offered are quit smoking starter kits that start at $29.99. Pursche said he would consult with customers about levels of nicotine in the products, to help people drop down to miniscule levels of the drug and help people quit their cigarette habit.
Pursche said he is also a strong proponent of keeping both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes out of the hands of children and ensures his customers are of legal age before they make a purchase.
A family affair
Vaping runs in the Pursche family. His brother, David, owns a vape shop in Johnston, which has been open for the past four years. While he’s sought advice and suggestions from his brother, the best thing Pursche received was the confidence to know that such a business could be successful.
Pursche said he couldn’t be happier with the way his operation has turned out over the past year. He added that he’s been accepted by the Warwick community and is excited about the future. He plans an anniversary celebration at his shop this weekend on August 18 and invites both the community and current smokers to come in and ask questions about his products.
“I would love to see everybody quit smoking,” said Pursche. “There are many people out there who are dying on a daily basis from smoking cigarettes. If vaping is going to prolong people’s lives, I’d be crazy to not be doing this.”