Six years ago, Tracy Musgrove’s husband, Dustin, was smoking two or three packs of cigarettes per day.
Then he found vaping — and quit smoking cigarettes for good.
Dustin’s success was something the Illinois couple wanted to share with others — and decided to start their own vape shop, Revolutionary Vapes, in Williamsburg.
While Williamsburg’s demographics might defy the “typical” vape culture, Musgrove says a professional, welcoming shop is the key to unlocking the vape industry in Williamsburg.
In Musgrove’s eyes, vaping is not just for young “20-somethings” who frequent concerts or go longboarding — it’s for military veterans who have smoked for decades, people who need to quit smoking so they can have life-saving surgeries, and elderly people looking to prolong their lives — and she says that fits right in with Williamsburg.
“We have people come in here with walkers,” Musgrove said. “We want them and others to feel comfortable in our store.”
Musgrove’s husband passed away in December from non-smoking-related causes, but she is now working to expand the business they built together in late 2015; Musgrove just opened a second vape shop in Norge called Colonial Vapes in February.
“Williamsburg was the market we were looking for,” Musgrove said of her and her husband. “With students and the active and retired military, those were the exact people we were looking to serve.”
Studies show the demographics of vape users do not directly line up with those of Williamsburg — but vaping is still picking up steam across the United States.
According to a November 2017 study published in “Nicotine & Tobacco Research,” vape shops are more prevalent in urban areas with higher populations of adults ages 18 to 44 years old and higher poverty rates.
In Williamsburg and James City County, nearly 30 percent and 50 percent of the population, respectively, is over the age of 44, according to data of the U.S. Census Bureau. The median income is $50,091 in both localities.
Google search results show only four vape shops in the Williamsburg area.
Despite Williamsburg’s older demographics, Musgrove is convinced there is a niche for vape users.
“We focus on the 30-plus working professionals,” she said. “But everyone is welcome.”
One shop in Williamsburg says vape culture is communal — and breaks down walls between people.
Maskervape, a Norfolk-based company owned by Phillip Condrey, on Palace Lane in Williamsburg, sees many service industry and construction workers, but also older professionals and college students, store manager Tyler Turpin said.
The Williamsburg Maskervape shop’s customer base also contrasts with the base at the company’s Newport News shop: many customers in Newport News are younger.
Maskervape estimates about a quarter of his regular customer base are over the age of 40. One of Turpin’s regular customers is over 90 years old and sometimes sends her great-granddaughter in to pick up juice refills.
“I love it here because you can talk to people,” Turpin said. Turpin believes vaping is not only a smoking alternative, but a way of life for some people.
The culture at Maskervape is communal. Turpin said the shop brings people together who may never interact in other situations.
“We have a 90-year-old veteran who comes in here once a week and tells war stories,” Turpin said. “At any one time, we could have a kid in college at one table, a 40-year-old construction worker at another, a guy who lives in the basement of his mom’s house… and they’ll talk, and the only thing they have in common is vaping.”
Is vaping harmful or helpful to your health?
There are still many unknowns about vaping, and the Food and Drug Administration is still figuring out how to regulate the industry, Musgrove said.
Musgrove is part of a lobbyist group advocating for vaping as a smoking cessation tool.
Virginia Department of Health Tobacco Control Program Project Manager Jayne Flowers said studies suggest electronic vapes and e-cigarettes “probably” are safer than combustible cigarettes, and there’s “potential” for them to aid those quitting smoking — but added the FDA has not approved the devices for smoking cessation.
“The research simply isn’t there to let us know all the details,” Flowers added.
According to flowers, vapes, e-cigarettes and other devices are all “electronic nicotine delivery systems,” and all share similar risks.
On March 20, the FDA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking regarding tobacco and nicotine product flavors.
The statement, put out by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, said the regulations are aimed at keeping children away from tobacco and nicotine — but also says e-cigarettes and vapes need additional consideration because anecdotal success stories are “important” in the FDA’s approach to smoking cessation.
In the meantime, both Turpin and Musgrove plan to continue advocating for vaping as an alternative to smoking in the Williamsburg area.
“Quitting is hard,” Musgrove said.
Fearing can be reached at email@example.com.