Peeking, freshly painted and proud from a grotty east London thoroughfare, where the uptight City surrenders to the studied insouciance of Shoreditch, is a new business venture that could perhaps only raise its head in this particular corner of the capital.

But then nothing about the location of the Vape Lab, which bills itself as London’s first electonic cigarette store cum coffee shop, was left to chance. The former hair salon, now a sleek m lange of oak floors, white tiles and vintage tables, sits close enough to Bishopsgate to appeal to pinstriped nicotine cravers and sufficiently near Hoxton to attract hipsters seeking a post prandial e cigarette after sauntering from the Andean soul food restaurant just down the road.

“We live here and we really love the vibes of this neighbourhood,” said Pierre Durand, who co owns the shop with fellow expat Frenchman and fellow City worker Jonathan Cadeilhan. “Maybe this is the only place where you could start off this concept. People here are open minded.”

If only the same could be said of some of the passersby. Although the Vape Lab has been open for a mere five days, some Twitter users find the shop a perfect opportunity to riff on east London stereotypes.

“On Shoreditch High Street obviously there is now the Vape Lab, an e cigarette and coffee shop,” wrote one. “Oh, it’s just like Vienna, 1900.”

Another was even more withering “Jeeeeezus, just gone past ‘The Vape Lab’, an e cigarette and coffee shop in Shoreditch life spirit oozes out onto the floor of the bus .”

The affable and enthusiastic Durand and Cadeilhan, however, are confident that they know their products and their consumers.

The idea for the establishment, where punters can as the website puts it “experience an old fashioned coffee and an e cig with our exceptional range of fair trade and organic Java and beautifully engineered electronic cigarettes”, was hatched in January, and by the beginning of March, the pair had found a shop and began making it over with the help of an interior designer friend.

Cadeilhan, who has seen e cigarette shops proliferate in France, is convinced that the refillable brushed metal devices that the store sells are the shape of fags to come. “In France, it’s a major market already there are maybe more than a thousand shops in France and about 300 in Paris,” he said. “Here in London, it’s a young market you see people here with disposable cigarettes and they will switch to electronic cigarettes. In five years’ time, there will be no more tobacco.”

Electronic cigarettes, which are becoming increasingly popular, contain a battery and a heating element that warms a nicotine solution to create an odourless vapour hence using e cigarettes is known as vaping rather than smoking. Unlike smoking, it is legal to vape indoors.

The shop offers an extensive range of flavoured “e liquids” from custard to Cuban tobacco, absinthe to gin and coconut to tangerine. And while its products do not come cheap reusable base units start at 45 10ml bottles of flavoured solutions at 7 Durand and Cadeilhan argue that a 10ml bottle is equivalent to seven packets of normal cigarettes, making it a vastly cheaper fix.

They also insist that vaping could not be more different to its now leprous forerunner. Supporters say the e cigarette gives people a nicotine hit without the toxins that are present in tobacco cigarettes.

“People sit here and talk to each other,” says Durand. “The vaping attitude is completely different. When you smoke, you have a cigarette, you have a short length of time, you have to go outside where it’s cold. When you vape, you can relax. Most of the time, customers who don’t know each other sit down and start having a chat.”

Customers were not much in evidence when the Guardian visited the Vape Lab on Tuesday afternoon, but presumably even City types and hipsters have commitments that preclude an outright abandonment to weekday sybaritism. But if all goes well, the Vape Lab’s owners wouldn’t mind expanding their business to Mayfair and South Kensington, home to so many of their exiled countrymen.

First things first, though Durand and Cadeilhan’s next project is the establishment of a private molecular cocktail bar in the basement.

E-cigarettes: healthy tool or gateway device? –

Malaysia’s #1 electronic cigarette & personal vaporizer online store –

The topic, though, remains as polarizing a health issue as sex education or diet sodas.

An e what?

The e cigarette was actually developed by a pharmacist in China.

The pharmacist, Hon Lik, was a three pack a day smoker. That was nothing unusual more than 300 million people in China are regular smokers. But when Lik’s father, who was also a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer, Lik decided he had to come up with an alternative that wouldn’t kill him.

Most scientists believe nicotine itself, while highly addictive, is not what causes cancer for smokers or for the people around them who breathe their second hand smoke. Instead, it’s the toxic chemicals that are created when tobacco and filler products burn that are dangerous.

If there was a way to get nicotine addicts their fix without the burn, you just might avoid the health problems. Nicotine then becomes as harmless as any other addictive substance, such as caffeine, some experts say.

So Lik developed an e cigarette a device that uses a small battery to atomize a pure liquid solution of nicotine. Nothing is burned. There is no ash. There is no smoke. There is nicotine, and then there is flavoring added for taste.

Essentially the person using these inhales a kind of vapor that looks like fog from a fog machine. A recent review of all the scientific research done on e cigarettes by Drexel University professor Igor Burstyn concludes “current data do not indicate that exposures to vapors from contaminants in electronic cigarettes warrant a concern.”

In plain language, Burstyn concludes “It’s about as harmless as you can get.”

“I wouldn’t worry at all if someone was smoking one of these by my kids,” Burstyn said. “From a pure health perspective, these are not as bad as a cigarette.”

E cigarettes came to the U.S. market around 2009. The CDC now estimates about one in five American smokers have tried an e cigarette that’s about 6% of all adults.

There are e cigarette stores, but now you can also buy them online or in convenience stores. Some look like regular cigarettes some look like pens or thumb drives.

First you buy a starter kit, which costs between $40 and $130. In the kit is the e cigarette, a charger and a few cartridges. The cartridges typically last as long as a 20 pack of cigarettes and sell for around $10. You can also buy a bottle of e liquid to refile the cartridge yourself.

The anti e cigarette camp

Critics point out e cigarettes come in kid friendly flavors such as gummy bear, atomic fireball candy and cookies and cream. It makes them worry that e cigarettes will become a gateway to encourage kids to develop a lifelong nicotine addiction or worse, try the real thing.

Only about 20 states specifically forbid the sale of e cigarettes to children.

Tobacco use has been on the decline with kids it’s about half what it was in the mid 1990s. But the latest CDC study shows a growing number of middle and high school students have tried e cigarettes.

One in 10 high school students surveyed said they had tried e cigarettes last year. That’s double the number from 2011. One high school in Connecticut banned them after the principal said administrators dealt with at least one incident involving e cigarettes every day.

CDC director Tom Frieden characterized this trend as “deeply troubling.”

But as far as risky behavior goes, it’s still a tiny fraction of students. The survey showed about 3% of these kids said they had used one in the last 30 days. By contrast, 39% of students said they drank some amount of alcohol in the past 30 days, 22% binge drank and 24% rode with a driver who had been drinking.

The real problem is that 88% of adult smokers who smoke daily said they started when they were kids, according to the CDC. Kids who start down the path to using e cigarettes may stick with them for life.

“So much is unknown about them and what the long term complications could be with their use,” said the American Lung Association’s Erika Sward. “Bottom line, we don’t know what the consequences of using them are, and we are very troubled that kids would find them attractive.”

E cigarettes are unregulated in the United States no laws make manufacturers tell you what you are actually inhaling. The unknown is one of the many qualities of e cigarettes that the American Lung Association doesn’t like.

It’s “a complete unregulated Wild West,” Sward said. She wants the FDA to move quickly with regulatory oversight, which she says would make manufacturers disclose what the actual ingredients are in each of the 250 or so brands available.

In 2009, a FDA test on a small number of e cigarette samples found “detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed.” They found diethylene glycol in one cartridge at a 1% level this is an ingredient used in antifreeze and can be toxic to humans in large quantities. Diethylene glycol is also found in some dental products and in some pharmaceuticals.

After that study, the FDA banned the sale of e cigarettes. They warned e cigarette smokers that they were inhaling “toxic” and “harmful” chemicals. However, in 2010, a court ruled that “the FDA had cited no evidence to show that electronic cigarettes harmed anyone,” and stores could go on selling them.

The early e adopters

On the other side of the debate are the passionate supporters of e cigarettes. Many who use them say it is the first thing that has helped them stop using cigarettes something more than 90% of smokers fail to do with any of the existing FDA approved methods. There are blogs and message boards dedicated to them. And there are countless impassioned testimonials from the people who use them.

Florida resident Craig Lashley says they’ve changed his life.

“I got tired of being like that little kid in ‘Peanuts’ who had the cloud of smoke following him all the time,” Lashley said. “I didn’t like the way I smelled when I smoked, and I didn’t like what smoking said about me, especially to kids.”

He discovered the e cigarette about a year ago and hasn’t smoked a regular cigarette since.

He says he smells better, feels better and spends a lot less about $10 a week on e cigarettes. He used to spend about $45 a week on regular cigarettes.

“I like the feel of blowing smoke,” Lashley said. “It seems to me like (e cigarettes are) a healthier alternative.”

A growing number of respected physicians and scientists agree, and they say these products could end a major health problem.

“Electronic cigarettes and other nicotine containing devices offer massive potential to improve public health, by providing smokers with a much safer alternative to tobacco,” the Royal College of Physicians says. “They need to be widely available and affordable to smokers.”

The latest study, published in the British journal the Lancet, examined whether people who used them as an alternative to smoking would abstain from using regular cigarettes.

The New Zealand authors studied the behavior of 657 people who were trying to quit. One group got nicotine patches, another got nicotine e cigarettes and others got placebo e cigarettes without the nicotine.

Over a period of six months, only a tiny fraction of the people in the study actually quit smoking.

People using the nicotine e cigarettes quit at a slightly better rate compared with those using the patch, though. Some 7.3% using the e cigarettes abstained from smoking traditional cigarettes compared with the 5.8% who stopped with the patch. About 4.1% stopped with just the placebo e cigarettes.

It was such a small number of people who quit that the authors concluded “more research is urgently needed to clearly establish their overall benefits and harms at both individual and population levels.”

Dr. Michael Siegel, a physician who has spent the past couple decades working on tobacco contro
l initiatives, has been surprised by the negative reaction to e cigarettes from so many people in the public health sector. Siegel says the studies he’s done have shown e cigarettes are a help.

“True we don’t know the long term health effect of e cigarettes, but there’s a very good likelihood that smokers are going to get lung cancer if they don’t quit smoking,” he said. “If they can switch to these and quit smoking traditional cigarettes, why condemn them?”

Siegel theorizes the e cigarettes might look too much like smoking.

“It’s ironic the very thing that makes them so effective … drives the anti smoking groups crazy. But what makes them so effective is it mimics the physical behaviors smokers have, which is something the patch can’t do.”

Siegel does believe there is an urgent need for more regulations.

Ray Story, founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, agrees. He says his association has also pushed for age verification legislation.

“When you have these companies trying to promote these as something they are not, and you have stores that sell them in the candy aisle, you are going to have a problem,” Story said. “If they are officially categorized as a tobacco product, you get an automatic age verification put in place.

“Nicotine is addictive, and we want the federal government to create guidelines and a structure that will confine these to being sold as adult products.”

Lashley says no matter what the debate, he will continue to spread the e cigarette gospel to his fellow adults.

So far, his co workers have been receptive to the idea. He used to be the only one with an e cigarette on smoke breaks. Now he says he’s got more than a dozen colleagues doing the same.

One colleague, though, complained about it.

“He said ‘I’m sick of all these people smoking electronic cigarettes,” Lashley said. “When I asked him why he said. ‘Simple, now I can’t bum any off of them.’ “