Vaping lounges offer refuge from LA's new e-cigarette ban

Reese Flores of Vapegoat said LA’s new ban on e-cigarettes could boost sales.
Reese Flores of Vapegoat said LA’s new ban on e-cigarettes could boost sales.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Reese Flores of Vapegoat said LA’s new ban on e-cigarettes could boost sales.
Vapegoat outfitted its “vaping lounge” with couches and artwork.
Josie Huang/KPCC

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As an e-cigarette user, Reese Flores says the City of L.A.’s new ordinance banning the devices in public spaces unfairly punishes him and other “vapers.”

But as he manned the counter on the first day of the ban at Vapegoat, an e-cigarette retailer in Highland Park, Flores saw an upside: a possible uptick in business.

That's because the ban exempts e-cigarette retailers and vaping lounges. Vapegoat has carved out a lounge space in its York Boulevard store, complete with couches, a display of original artwork and a sound system that on this afternoon blares the Linkin Park station on Pandora.

RELATED: What you need to know about e-cigarette ban 

Flores said the space could attract more people from a growing vaping community that geeks out over modifying the battery-operated devices and celebrates e-cigarettes as a way to kick a tobacco habit.

“There are people who quit smoking and feel really good about it and they want to share it with other people,” Flores said.

As of Saturday, e-cigarette use is now banned everywhere in Los Angeles that tobacco smoking is prohibited — beaches, parks and farmer’s markets, as well as indoor locations such as bars, restaurants and workplaces. 

L.A. City Council members had expressed concern about exposing the public to vapors from e-cigarettes. Some also feared that allowing vaping in public spaces would tacitly send a message to young people that the practice is safe when some health studies indicate otherwise.

Those caught breaking the ban will be subject to a fine of up to $250.

It's not clear how many people the ban would affect. But the e-cigarette industry has been rapidly gaining customers, with the number of adult smokers in 2011 doubling to about 21 percent from the year before.

In fact, the industry could reach $1.5 billion in sales in the U.S. this year and overtake that of traditional tobacco products within 10 years.

Cynar Magno, who owns the e-cigarette shop Vape Noize in Eagle Rock, said in the short-term the ban would send more people to the makeshift lounge space in his store.

But the ordinance could be harmful in the long run, Magno said. Categorizing vaping with smoking has a stigmatizing effect that will discourage people from trying e-cigarettes, he said.

"They won't vape or purchase as much product as they do," Magno said. "We will hurt at some point."

But at the Highland Park shop, Flores was thankful that the ban had exempted e-cigarette retailers, whose customers want to try products in the shop, including different flavors of nicotine-based flavored liquids used in vaping, known as "e-juice."

The bulk of business at Vapegoat, Flores said, comes from customers who like to taste test e-juice flavors ranging from tobacco to apple.

“Most of our revenue is the liquids,” Flores said.  “Cheaper liquid is online but you don’t know what it tastes like.”

E-cigarette user Juliette Hays agreed. She goes about once every week or so to her local e-cigarette store to get her device restocked, usually with her favorite "vanilla custard" liquid.

"How could you not vape in a place where you're buying," Hayes said. "That's crazy."