Business Fires Up At Vapor Eyes
In the shadow of one of New Orleans’ oldest enterprises stands one of its newest.
As Antoine’s Restaurant celebrates 175 years serving up Oysters Rockefeller, Pompano Pontchartrain and Baked Alaska, right across the street Vapor Eyes is selling electronic cigarettes, flavored e-liquids, drip tips and chargers.
They’re two French Quarter businesses that couldn’t be less alike, yet they both seem to know how to smoke their competition.
“We’ve been in business since last August,” Vapor Eyes owner Elizabeth A. Dallessio PA-C, said. “From December until now, we’ve seen a 50% growth in business and visibility.”
Vapor Eyes is capitalizing on the e-cigarette craze. They’re helping customers satisfy their cravings for portable, personalized battery powered vaporizers to atomize liquids, with or without nicotine, to provide the physical sensation of smoking tobacco. Instead of producing secondhand smoke, someone who puffs on an e-cig instead exhales a vapor, or “vapes.”
The Washington D.C. based Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association reports the vapor industry is a cultural phenomenon ablaze, destined to grow beyond $10 billion by 2017. Bloomberg Business reports potential industry growth is not all smoke and mirrors – while purveyors can mark up cigarettes 20%, there’s usually a 200% to 400% mark-up on e-cigarette dispensers.
Dallessio said she stopped her 25-year, ½ pack a day cigarette habit by switching to e-cigs. It took only 2 months to stop smoking, she said, and was repulsed when she tried just a single cigarette since. It caused an epiphany, she said, and a business idea started to flicker. She opened up her own vape shop in Lee County, FL, for 2 years before deciding she could ignite a demand in New Orleans.
“Face it, there are a lot of smokers in New Orleans,” Dallessio said. “And when we started looking for a location there were only about 3 other vape shops in town. “We want to help smokers save money, save their lungs, our environment and the people around us. It was a win-win situation with potential growth and opportunity.”
Today, there are more than a dozen vaping stores within the 10-mile radius of Vapor Eyes, located at 710 St. Louis St.
“Doing business across the street from Antoine’s gives us lots of street exposure which is key to attracting tourists,” Dallessio said. “The folks at Antoine’s have been so gracious. They’re big time fans, and we’ve helped some of them quit smoking. One employee told us he hasn’t smoked a cigarette in 3 months since he switched to e-cigs. They send people over to us all the time.”
Every e-cig is comprised of a mouthpiece, a cartomizer (cartridge/ atomizer) and a rechargeable lithium ion battery. Vapor Eyes sells all the paraphernalia – mouthpieces, or drips ($2.99 - $6.99), atomizers ($5.99 - $39.99), batteries ($21.99 - $149.99), chargers (up to $6.99) cases (up to $7.99), lanyards (up to $12.99), e-cig starter kits ($39.99 - $99.99) and disposable hookahs ($7.99 - $10.99).
Dallessio and her partner, Mark Raeder, who previously owned a telecommunications company in Florida and Pennsylvania, also sell trademarked Vapor Eyes e-liquid custom blends. They said they pride themselves in mixing quality, Kosher, vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol and USA grade nicotine ingredients.
Dallessio, who said she’s a physician’s assistant with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from the University of Mississippi and a Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Miami, said Vapor Eyes offers more than 140 custom blends of e-liquid flavors to customer’s specifications and nicotine levels for inhalation consumption.
“Our goal is to create an opportunity for smokers to get nicotine without smoking,” she said. “And we’ve been successful. It can change your life.”
Cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemicals, Dallessio said, and at least 40 known carcinogens. They generate ash, trash and second hand smoke. She said e-cigarettes are significantly cheaper, don’t need lighters or ashtrays and allow you control over your nicotine levels. She said exhaled vapors don’t cling to your clothes, won’t stain your teeth and, if you’re using e-cigs to stop smoking, you’ll find your sense of taste and smell return, as well as your appetite.
And while the jury is still out as to any possible negative effects from e-cigarettes, the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association reports, “Any substance containing nicotine is not 100% safe, but electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco, a carcinogenic ingredient, and they do not produce smoke….The FDA discovered trace amounts of tobacco-specific nitrosamines in e-cigarettes, which are known to cause cancer with high exposure. The amounts found were far too low to be definitively labeled as cancer causing. An e-cigarette contains nearly the same trace levels of nitrosamines as the FDA-approved nicotine patch and about 1,300 times fewer nitrosamines than a traditional cigarette.”
“Data over time will prove itself,” Dallessio said, referring to favorable studies endorsing the benefits of vaping. “I think ‘Big Tobacco’ has something to do with disseminating negative reviews.”
“With e-cigs we can help wean people down on nicotine,” she said. “If we start someone on 18 mg, 2 weeks later we can drop them down to 16 mgs or 12 mgs.”
Dallessio said if you’re used to a 3 pack a day cigarette habit, Vapor Eyes will provide you with an e-liquid containing 36 mg of nicotine. Two packs a day translates to 24 mgs, 1 pack translates to 12 mgs, and down from there.
“You don’t have to come from a smoking background to enjoy e-cigs,” she said. “We provide all our blends without any nicotine at all.”
Vapor Eyes manufactures its e-liquid, or e-juice, by using a 50/50 split of vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol, with additional nicotine, all processed via Kosher methods at plants in Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia. Vapor Eyes said they are proud to serve up only U.S. made products and don’t charge escalated prices for different strengths of nicotine. It’s all factored into one price per bottle size. They dispense 15 ml bottles that cost $9.99 that have a 2-year shelf life.
Vapor Eyes’ flavors run the gamut from Amaretto to Watermelon to the current store favorite, Pink Starburst. They even created some New Orleans inspired specials like Absinthe, Hurricane and Zombie and a Sno-Ball Blueberry/ Raspberry flavor called "Voodoo Blues.”
“We have an in-store sampling station with an atomizer and disposable tip,” Dallessio said. “We want to make sure our customers are enjoying our products before they leave the store with them.”
While many bottles are pre-made and for sale on the shelves, Dallessio said they can custom blend any flavor on the spot to specification.
As part of the Vapor Eyes Loyalty Rewards program, if you buy 5 bottles of e-juice you’ll get the 6th for free. To create some local awareness, Vapor Eyes also introduced a special 10% discount for French Quarter residents and service industry employees who work in the French Quarter. There’s also a 10% discount offered to all military.
Last, if you spend $10 in the store, you’ll automatically be entered into a monthly drawing to win an e-cigarette starter kit kit worth up to $99.99.
“We have remarkable customer service, a great knowledge base and reasonable prices,” Dallessio said. “We don’t let anyone leave unhappy.”
Dallessio said Vapor Eyes is starting to produce their e-liquids in bulk and will soon distribute to other stores in the area.
Staying ahead of the vaping curve may prove exhausting, but Dallessio said the waft of change may blow in her favor. When the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to ban smoking in bars and casinos in January, it did set some limits on vaping, but not as much as smoking.
“We think we’re going to see a lot of new people come into our store,” she said. “We already have a large customer base of service industry workers. We’re expecting more.”
Dallessio also isn’t fuming about recent news from Ashville, NC, where the City Council there voted this week in favor of an e-cigarette ban prohibiting vaping on buses, city facilities, the airport and parks.
“I don’t see it impacting the business locally in the next few years,” she said. “I don’t see it affecting us in New Orleans at this time. Vaping is so innocuous. I don’t anticipate anything except continued growth and development.”
There’s also been some fiery news about e-cigarettes exploding in the hands and faces of users, as in Santa Ana, CA, on Monday.
“Heat and pressure can make anything explode,” Dallessio said. “You need to take precautions to make sure you use the appropriate battery with the corresponding unit.”
Despite the effluvium of headlines fanning the flames of bad publicity, Dallessio still glows about the outlook of her e-cig and vaping business.
“We’re growing, growing, growing,” she said. “Our goal is to update, renew and change our products to suit our customers’ needs, and we’ve experienced and are still expecting tremendous growth.”