A lounge for smokeless cigarette enthusiasts

inside Smokeless Smoking
Jesse Griffith of Minneapolis carries on a conversation while seated in the lounge area of Smokeless Smoking, an electronic cigarette store that recently opened on Lyndale Avenue. The store not only sells the increasingly popular alternative to smoking, it provides a lounge area for enthusiasts to gather. (Sun staff photo by Mike Hanks)

Much like the coffeehouses and cigar lounges that provide a gathering place for aficionados, those who have taken to a growing alternative to cigarettes have a place to gather in Bloomington.

Smokeless Smoking, which opened its doors recently at 8563 Lyndale Ave., is part retail store, part “smoking” lounge.

The store’s name is a bit of a misnomer, the technology behind the electronic cigarettes they sell involves no smoke of any kind. Those in the know refer to it as “vaping” because the user is inhaling and exhaling water vapor, according to co-owner Angie Griffith.

In a little more than the three years the Griffiths have been in business e-cigs have become a popular alternative to traditional cigarettes, as evidenced by the growth of their company. Griffith and her husband Jesse were introduced to the product while they were living in California. As habitual smokers, they took to the product quickly, she recalled.

The couple didn’t intend to become e-cig entrepreneurs when they moved from the west coast to Minnesota, but their interest in the product and the lack of its availability in the Twin Cities presented an opportunity.

They had moved to Minnesota, where Angie grew up, because they didn’t want to raise a family in Los Angeles. Angie had moved to California to attend college and did camera and lighting work in the film industry. Jesse, who is from Michigan, worked as a computer technician.

They intended to transfer their career skills to jobs in Minnesota, but the limited availability of e-cigs proved that there was room in the crowded retail marketplace for a business such as theirs.

After considerable research they began selling the slim, electronic devices and flavored liquids from a kiosk at Burnsville Center. The success of that location allowed them to grow, leading to additional kiosks in Roseville and Maplewood.

The Bloomington strip mall store is their first non-kiosk. In addition to providing a location with office and storage space, the Bloomington store also provided room to meet an unexpected need for their business, a place for enthusiasts to gather.

Customers at their kiosk business would often hang around to discuss their preferred instruments and flavors. It was a behavior that “mimicked how cigar smokers feel about cigars,” Jesse said.

It was clear that there was a need for “a clubhouse for people who like electronic cigarettes,” he added.

Inside the Bloomington store is a counter stocked full of products, as well as chairs and sofas for people to gather and play board games, read, watch movies or discuss the politics of the day while vaping an e-cig.

For many the draw of e-cigs isn’t the community of users, but the savings it provides. E-cigs are available in a variety of sizes, with smaller ones tending to be easier to carry around, according to Angie.

All units contain a rechargeable battery that powers a heating element inside the cigarette. The heat generated creates the vapor from liquid inside a holding tank of the e-cig. When an e-cig is activated it quickly produces a vapor that is then inhaled and exhaled similarly to cigarette smoke, Angie explained.

The liquid is typically flavored, and often contains nicotine, although flavored liquids with no nicotine are available. An e-cig delivers nicotine the same way a traditional cigarette does, but without the tar and carbon monoxide of cigarettes, Jesse noted.

The startup cost is typically in the $50-75 range, according to Angie, and the liquid is $15 per small bottle and $25 per large bottle. She estimates that a pack per day smoker would save about $1,600 in a year, and said that many who try e-cigs are quick to make the switch from traditional smoking. “A lot of our customers quit the day they start,” she said. “It’s an easy switch.”

Electronic cigarette devices come in varying shapes and sizes, and contain rechargable batteries. Users fill a small holding tank with a flavored liquid, usually containing nicotine, that is heated to produce vapor that is inhaled and exhaled similar to cigarette smoke. (Sun staff photo by Mike Hanks)

While many people have made the switch from cigarettes to e-cigs, the product does present some issues that have yet to be resolved. There’s no smoke involved, but some businesses have prohibited them, just the same as if they are cigarettes, according to Jesse. Although users emit water vapor, it can easily be confused for smoke, and some businesses, such as Target Field in Minneapolis, don’t want people thinking smoking is permitted within the business, Jesse explained.

Their use is also restricted on airplanes, as the vapor may be mistaken for smoke inside the plane, he noted.

Although there is no inhalation of smoke, Bloomington requires Smokeless Smoking to have a tobacco license, and the company does pay tobacco taxes on products that contain nicotine, Jesse noted.

The product is only sold to adults, and is not recommended for non-smokers.

Information about their store is available online at smokelessmn.com.