Jim Longden held a black tube, about the size and width of a large Sharpie marker, with a gold ring connecting the two halves. Periodically placing the end to his lips and depressing a small plastic button with his thumb, he breathed deeply, then exhaled a dissipating cloud.
The "smoke" smelled sweet. According to Longden, the owner of Vapoligy at 4935 N. Bradley St. in Garden City, that's the propylene glycol, the sugary-clear liquid he combines with liquid nicotine, called "niquid." In essence, the cigarette-like object Longden "smokes" from is a miniature vaporizer and the smoking is called vaping.
Niquid is inserted into the end of the device and a heating element turns the liquid into steam, which the user inhales.
"It's no different than the hot water heater in your bathroom," he said.
For Longden, the e-cigarette keeps him from smoking the real thing. Before he found e-cigarettes, he smoked four packs a day. But he developed a racking cough and doctors told him he had to quit. Traditional tobacco cessation devices didn't help him.
"None of them really attack the problem. The problem that almost any smoker will tell you is they need something to do with their hands," said Longden.
The appeal of the e-cigarette is in its form. Smokers can purchase an electronic version that looks just like the paper variety. They can blend in with their social group, still get the nicotine and have something to do with their hands.
"Otherwise, they start grabbing M&Ms or gummy bears or whatever is nearby," he said.
The Food and Drug Administration in 2010 classified e-cigarettes in the same category as nicotine inhalers and gum--cessation devices. However, an appeals court decided otherwise, lumping them in with tobacco products.
The product's first retailers marketed e-cigarettes largely online, with flavored cartridges. The FDA found diethylene--not propylene--glycol in the cartridges, as well as carcinogens. Longden's vaporizers don't use cartridges.
The American Association of Public Health Physicians has officially stated that e-cigarettes could help smokers reduce their health risks by 98 percent. But Health Canada issued an advisory against them, and King County, Wash., outlawed their use in public areas. King County's ordinances are considered the toughest regulations in the nation.
If the Boise City Council passes proposed smoke-free ordinances as written, e-cigarettes would also be banned from bars, any indoor place with employees and parks, with the exception of limited smoking areas.
Boise City Council Member T.J. Thomson told BW that a proposed exemption for e-cigarettes was removed to make enforcement easier. The worry, said Thomson, was that e-cigarettes would look too similar to real ones.
Longden said most people don't confuse his devices with cigarettes. He said even ex-smokers with sensitive noses don't mistake the steam from his cigarette for the real deal.
"I sell absolutely nothing that's tobacco based," said Longden, puffing at a cigar-flavored niquid. "I've vaped going through security at the airport, on the airplane, in schools, in restaurants--you name it. I've vaped almost everywhere known to man."