A trip to Cape Coral changed the lives of a Land O' Lakes couple and spawned a new business that aims to help smokers kick the habit for good.
Vince and Gina Sankoe opened Viable Vapor in December, after Gina, a lifetime smoker, discovered the e-cig on a trip to visit her brother.
Gina had tried nicotine patches, nicotine gum and the electronic cigarettes that came out a few years back, she said. Nothing worked. But when she tried the e-cig, she knew she could do it.
She also convinced her father, a heavy smoker for 60-plus years, and mother, a smoker for 50-plus years, to give it a try.
"You have to have a little bit of desire to quit smoking," Gina said. With that desire, Gina and her parents have given up cigarettes. Her father, Gina said, has been using the e-cig with zero nicotine for three months.
Vince's parents gave it a try, too, she said.
"They loved it," Gina said.
And that was the theme that put the plans in motion for an e-cig store.
"Everyone I knew who had a desire to quit loved it," Gina said. After months of research on the products available and the benefits of switching from smoking to "vaping," the Sankoes took the plunge, opening the Land O' Lakes store to give smokers an alternative that they say eliminates the "thousands of known carcinogens" cigarettes deliver.
The e-cig has none, Gina said.
Let Patch save you time. Get local stories like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone every day with our free newsletter. Simple, fast sign-up here.
In other areas of the country, e-cig retailers are much further along, Vince said. The Bay area doesn't have as many options for local retailers.
"We still have a lot of people who have never seen (an e-cig)," he said.
The products can be purchased online, however in order to get the correct amount of nicotine to make it work for someone, they need to come in and try it out. If there's too much or too little nicotine, the likelihood of success is lower, Vince said.
"You really have to work with people one on one to pick the strength and the flavor," he said.
So far, several people have told the couple that their doctor recommended they pay Viable Vapor a visit, Vince said.
The e-cig is odorless and can be used indoors, with no secondhand smoke effects, no ashes and no tar, Gina said.
The store's tagline: "We kick ash."
There are only three ingredients in the e-cig: nicotine, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. Both PG and VG are FDA approved for use in food products, Vince said.
Viable Vapor also sells only products made in the U.S., they said, because Chinese-produced products are cheaper but not produced as safely as the pharmaceutical grade American products.
"It was just me and my family in the beginning," Gina said. The couple wanted to ensure the products they were using themselves were as healthy as possible.
The price to get started is about $50, Gina said. How long it will last you depends on how often you smoke now.
"You really have to be honest about how often you smoke" so they can help you get the correct nicotine level, Vince said. If there's not enough in the e-cig, it's not going to last as long.
Something they hadn't planned for, but are happy to see, is the number of chewing tobacco users and cigar smokers coming in to give their products a try to quit those habits, as well, Vince said.