Battle over ‘safe’ cigs

Smrt Vape co-owner Diego Ostolaza demonstrates proper 'vaping' form.

A Throggs Neck local wants to change the way Bronxites smoke — but a proposed State law would vaporize his business dreams.

Smrt Vape, a store selling electronic vapor smoking devices called “e-tanks,” opened on E. Tremont Avenue this January. The shop’s futuristic inhalation machines help tobacco users wean themselves off the real thing, claims 28-year-old co-owner Diego Ostolaza, who started the shop with partner Luis Viejo.

But just days after Smrt Vape’s opening, a Bronx lawmaker proposed a bill that could see Ostolaza’s business go up in smoke.

Harsh e-cig laws?

A law sponsored by Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz would tax e-cigarettes under the same bracket as other tobacco products, claiming that their health benefit claims have appeared out of thin air.

“E-cigarettes aren’t the safe alternative the industry makes them out to be,” Dinowitz said in a statement. “These devices are marketed as smoking cessation tools, when in actuality they are anything but.”

But Ostolaza argued that with a closer look Dinowitz’s pro-regulation arguments vaporize. The pol criticizes e-cigs for being filled with chemicals and designed to look like tobacco cigarettes.

A society of ‘vapers’

But Smrt Vape’s products are far more sophisticated than that, Ostolaza said. The shop’s vaporizing kits (a one-time payment of around $30) include a battery-powered e-tank and a plastic squeeze bottle of “Vape Juice.”

The juice gets poured into a cavity in the tank’s center and, with a mere push of a button, heated up into inhalable vapor.

Smokers trying to quit start with a juice with a higher level of nicotine in it, and then switch to a liquid with less and less nicotine until they’ve gotten rid of the dependence on the drug.

Not tobacco

“Vaping is not tobacco and should not be in any category associated with tobacco,” Ostolaza said. “My products don’t have thousands of carcinogens in them.”

The 90 varieties of e-liquid, or Vape Juice, Ostolaza sells have only four ingredients: Nicotine, Propylene Glycol, Vegetable Glycerin, and one of 90 FDA-approved flavors.

None of those chemicals are any different from the types of preservatives found in a can of soda, he argued.

For now, Ostalaza can also sell the smokers he’s been plucking off the streets of Throggs Neck on price. After the initial $30 for a kit, each 10 ml bottle of Vape Juice, which he said lasts a few weeks, costs just $10.

That price would skyrocket if Dinowitz has his way in Albany. Ostalaza says that’d be bad news for his customers whose lives have changed with the help of his products.

“I trust the words of the ex-smokers, that tell me, “I feel better” “I can Breathe now” “My chest doesn’t hurt.”” He said. “ I can go on all day with testimonials.”

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.
Ostolaza and co-partner Luis Viejo have 90 flavors of e-liquid, or Vape Juice, on display at the Throggs Neck shop.
Photo by Walter Pofeldt

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