Vape Shop Opens in Kodiak

Steam Trunk owner Mike Johnson. Kayla Desroches/KMXT
Steam Trunk owner Mike Johnson. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

A new business in Kodiak is proving popular with those who enjoy flavor in vapor form.  A vape shop opened earlier this month on Marine Way, and the owner says he’s already gotten a lot of customers.

Vaping, or the inhalation of vapor through a device, has been called a healthier alternative to smoking.

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Chris Fehlman takes a pull on his vaporizer and blows out a thick cloud of smoke. The process looks familiar, but he’s not breathing in the same chemicals that come from a traditional cigarette.

“What it is is you have your four basic ingredients. If you have nicotine, you have your artificial food flavoring, your vegetable glycerin, and your propylene glycol. And if you want, you can have nicotine added into it, but it’s better if you don’t. It’s more for quitting in my opinion. Well, for me. Other people do it just for competitions or just as a hobby.”

Long-term effects of vaping are under study, but there are still fewer ingredients in this e-juice than the hundreds of ingredients in cigarettes – roughly 600 according to the American Lung Association.

And owner Mike Johnson says, take away the optional nicotine, the same ingredients Fehlman just listed can often be found in food products. He says the vegetable glycerin – or V.G. – produces the cloud and propylene glycol – or P.G. – is typically used as a flavor carrier.

Johnson says he currently carries seven brands and 42 flavors. He presents what looks like a restaurant menu and describes one flavor called Boss Reserve.

“Golden honey graham cereal with roasted nut crunch clusters drenched in creamy milk and layered with sliced bananas. I mean, your mouth’s watering, I can tell.”

Besides the creative tastes, vaping has a visual appeal.

“When people started getting into pushing out clouds or doing tricks with their clouds, they wanted more cloud production, so they started mixing with a higher ratio of V.G. And the V.G., like I said, that produces the vapor, so nowadays, you see a lot of mixes where it’s 70 percent V.G., 30 percent P.G., and there’s some out there that are strictly built for cloud competitions a lot of times, where guys’ll do a 100 percent V.G. and then just completely omit that P.G.”

And price is also a positive, especially if the client is transitioning away from smoking – Johnson explains e-juice costs a fraction of what cigarettes do.

He says the expense of smoking was one reason he turned away from cigarettes. And vaping provided a comparable experience.

“As a smoker of 20 plus years, I had tried a lot of other smoking cessation things, whether it’s the patch, the gum, Chantix, Zyban, the nicotine inhalers, and none of them were really able to really effectively replace what I was craving.”

He explains, with vaping, smokers don’t need to quit nicotine all at once.

“So, maybe a heavier smoker if you were a pack of day, you’d kinda want to go to a 6 mg to start out with. What most people do when they transition is they’ll start at a higher level of nicotine and then work their way down.”

Vaping is also a social pastime.

Johnson has set up the business as a space to both buy and enjoy the product – there’s the small shop with its display case of vaporizers and e-juice, and then there’s another room with a couch, a large screen, and video games where customers can hang out.

The social aspect might be just the key to helping people quit. For example, some smokers may like taking a smoke-break with co-workers, and pulling out their vaporizer could be the healthier alternative.

Or, people faced with the option of smoking cigarettes might choose vaping instead. Like, Steam Trunk customer Edgar Sandoval.

“My co-workers always take smoke breaks, and I was like, I don’t want to smoke, so I’m gonna vape, so that’s what I did.”

Vaping is relatively new. Johnson says he started a vape shop in Anchorage in 2012, and over the next few years, they had popped up all over the city. The same phenomenon might happen with the marijuana industry as the Marijuana Control Board and local governments work out how businesses should look in their districts.

Johnson says he’s a business man, and if the right opportunity presents itself, he wouldn’t rule out exploring the marijuana industry, but it’s not a direction he’ll take Steam Trunk. He wants to keep the business pure for vaping.

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