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Friday, February 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Health official, shop manager disagree whether vaping flavors like fruity pebbles are aimed at kids

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 11, 2019

Flavored e-cigarette pods are displayed for sale Sept. 3 at Good Guys Vape Shop in Biddeford, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)
Flavored e-cigarette pods are displayed for sale Sept. 3 at Good Guys Vape Shop in Biddeford, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

Breakfast how you like it, so long as it’s sugar-coated.

That’s what’s on the menu at Sublime Vapors in Spokane: French toast, crunch berries, fruity pebbles, fruit loops and cinnamon muffins. There’s also black coffee.

And if dessert is more your thing, they have cheesecake, vanilla custard and cotton candy.

The list goes on and on.

In fact, general manager Joey Blodgett said Sublime offers over 250 e-cigarette liquids, and he contends the proliferation of sweet tooth options are not aimed at teens. That’s something Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane Regional Board of Health officer, disagrees with.

“No adult is going to want to smoke something that tastes like bubble gum,” Lutz said.

Several customers shuffled through Sublime late Wednesday afternoon, and all were asked for identification proving they were 18 or over, in accordance with the law. No one purchased bubble gum, but many fruity, sugary flavors were selected.

A couple of years ago, Lutz went into a shop himself, out of curiosity. He wanted to see vaping through the eyes of a consumer. All vape shops offer vaping liquids in a range of nicotine levels, from zero milligrams to 50 mg. The average amount of nicotine in a cigarette is 12 mg and can fall between 8 mg and 20 mg.

Vaping is often touted as a smoking cessation device, and the idea behind stores offering this range is that it provides way of “stepping down” nicotine usage , similar to how skin patches, chewing gum and lozenges work.

Unlike these products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has never approved e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device, and in fact is conducting a multistate investigation into severe lung disease connected to vaping, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lutz was curious how often the zero mg liquid was purchased.

“What the guy tells me was that nobody buys the zero nicotine,” Lutz said.

Lutz said the Department of Health has been tracking e-cigarette usage for years, and its usage among teens had declined – until Juul came onto the scene in 2017.

But Blodgett said his shop refuses to sell any Juul products. Though he said his product is essentially a nicotine-delivering device, he also views it as a smoking-cessation tool. He said many customers have gotten off nicotine entirely using his products, himself included.

Juul, however, offers high concentrations of nicotine – higher than any user would need, Blodgett said. Juul’s influence on the market forced his hand, and he had to start carrying something referred to as nicotine salts – e-liquid with high nicotine levels, between 25 and 50 mg – in his store.

“We’re trying to get people off of nicotine, we’re not trying to increase how much nicotine,” Blodgett said.

Blodgett said about 90% of the people buying the nicotine salts at his store are 18 to 21.

“It’s because kids like to get high off of nicotine,” Blodgett said. “That’s all it is, that they like that head rush. Unfortunately, with that head rush they then get addicted even more to the nicotine aspect because it’s the equivalent of smoking three cigarettes at once.”

Blodgett said that, with Juul, it was important to follow the money. In December 2018, Altria – one of the world’s largest cigarette manufacturers – bought 35% of Juul.

“It’s part of big tobacco, and we didn’t want to have any part of it,” Blodgett said.

Though a majority of the confirmed cases nationally involved THC, the first confirmed case of vaping-related lung disease in Washington – which was confirmed Wednesday in King County – did not.

Lutz said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not been able to isolate what substance is causing these hospitalizations. But he emphasized the only common denominator is vaping.

“Vaping is not safe for anyone, but especially unsafe for youth, for pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding,” Lutz said, adding that people should not modify the solutions they are using or buy anything off the street.

Blodgett said the black market for vaping in Spokane is getting bad.

“It is monstrous,” Blodgett said. “You can see some stuff that’s been made in bathtubs, people make it in their apartments. It’s all bootleg, and we don’t know where they’re getting the flavor from. We don’t know where they’re getting their nicotine.”

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