Vapors Inn (813 Toulouse St., 504-403-4445; 4439 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 504-265-0525; www.facebook.com/vaporsinnnola) sells e-cigarettes and specialty flavors of e-liquid made on location. Mostly former tobacco smokers, the employees serve "vaping" customers who range from novices purchasing starter kits to enthusiasts who enjoy the social aspects of vapor cloud competitions and tinkering with their e-cigarette units.
While co-owner Richard Kibbe stresses that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't allow e-cigarettes to be promoted for smoking cessation (like nicotine gum or patches), he's seen lots of people transition from cigarette smoking to vaping, including himself. As a former pack-a-day smoker who had switched to cigars, Kibbe says vaping is cheaper and less physically harmful than smoking tobacco.
The staff works with new customers to gauge what nicotine level they should try first, based on their current smoking habits. Most customers lower the nicotine levels gradually until they quit both traditional smoking and vaping, he says.
Beginners usually start with flavors that mimic the taste of tobacco. "[Cus-tomers branch out once] they separate the idea that it's supposed to taste like cigarettes," Kibbe says. Vapors Inn offers 150 flavors, which are mixed and steeped locally. Top-selling flavors include vanilla custard, Kool-Aid, blue raspberry Icee and apricot bourbon. All flavors can be customized, and employees mix them to order in the shop lounge, which looks and feels like a comfortable bar with a big-screen TV and couches.
Vapors Inn carries major vaping hardware brands including Aspire, Innokin, Joyetech and Kangertech. Kibbe says knock-off vaporizers might be half the price, but brand-name units are more durable. Vapors Inn sells replacement parts for do-it-yourselfers who repair their own vaporizers. Matt Gauthier, who Kibbe calls a "fix-everything guy," is available to repair units, particularly the box mods. Box mods are bulkier than the slender, more commonly recognizable e-cigarette, but they also have a longer-lasting battery, which is one reason experienced customers often prefer them.
Kibbe says vaping gained traction on the Internet, where forums are devoted to everything from vaping flavors to legislation affecting how and where people can vape. Stores like Vapors Inn are relatively new. The Metairie location is about two years old and the French Quarter location opened in 2014. Some customers continue to use e-cigarettes even after reducing their nicotine levels because they enjoy the social aspect and the ritual as well as the taste.
"A lot of smoking is psychology," Kibbe says, puffing on a box mod unit. His nicotine level is very low, but he continues to enjoy the experience of vaping. "This feels right," he says.