Totally Wicked Aims to Satisfy E-Smoking Market

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio – From Savanna Siewak’s perspective, electronic cigarettes such as those sold by Totally Wicked offer an alternative for smokers.

“Being able to smoke without smoking is the idea,” she remarked. “I can have my nicotine but it doesn’t have to taste like tobacco or menthol. I could have strawberry shortcake if I want to and still have my nicotine, and eliminate the toxins and carcinogens that we’re aware of.”

Siewak, company trainer with Totally Wicked USA, which is based in Bradenton, Fla., joined the local owners of the store, 4501 Belmont Ave., for a ribbon cutting Monday.

It’s Totally Wicked USA’s sixth bricks-and-mortar franchise in the United States and the first outside Florida, according to Siewak, who has been with the company for four years. The company also has resellers across the country as well as an online store.

“We were told by these guys that this is an up-and-coming market for electric cigarettes,” Siewak said of the store’s co-owners, Jason Sharpe and Dan Crump. Several smaller e-cigarette stores operate in the area, she noted, but none have a “corporate feel” to it, offering warranties on items, a website where customers can reference information or associates to explain the products or troubleshoot, if necessary.

“I think everybody’s tried smoking at one point in their life,” Sharpe said. “To me, if you didn’t have the smoking flavor and the smoking smell on your body and you were able to get the same feeling, I think it’s much safer for your system.”

E-cigarettes use a coiled heating element that boils liquid to release a vapor inhaled by the user, rather than burning a traditional cigarette to inhale smoke.

“At the end of the day you’re comparing combustion to a boiling point,” Siewak said. “Any time something is lit on fire it creates toxins through smoke. The main difference here is that you’re heating liquid to a boiling point to release a vapor, not necessarily creating new chemicals like smoke does.”

The e-liquids come in more than 100 flavors, including various fruits (strawberry, grape, pineapple), chocolate, cinnamon, tobacco and coffee. Prices for the e-cigarettes range from $25 to $100. Kits are also sold allowing users to make their own liquids, adjust flavors and nicotine levels.

Customers include individuals “who have forgone smoking” and instead use e-cigarettes — or vaping, as it’s called — as well as smokers who are trying to quit the habit, Sharpe said.

“We have different levels of nicotine ranging all the way down to zero. For the person who wants to quit smoking, you’re able to wean yourself off the nicotine slowly,” he said.

“We are concerned about what we put in our bodies,” Sharpe continued. “Every single oil that we have at this store is 100% tested and approved and produced in pharmaceutical labs.”

Still, the rise of e-cigarettes has stirred concerns. In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products reported that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014. That represented the first time since data was collected on e-cigarettes in 2011 that e-cigarette use among youths surpassed every other tobacco product including conventional cigarettes.

Nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age whether it comes from an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette or cigar, warned Tom Frieden, CDC director, in announcing the data.

“Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction and lead to sustained tobacco use,” Frieden said.

More than 40 states – including Ohio — have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to people under age 18, a prohibition announced on a poster-sized sign on a wall at Totally Wicked.

The FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products is supporting more than 50 research products addressing e-cigarettes, including studies looking at health consequences, youth and adult awareness and addiction.

The agency has proposed extending its authority to regulate products such as e-cigarettes that meet the legal definition of a tobacco product, said FDA press officer Michael Felderbaum. Among the proposed rule’s are requiring newly deemed tobacco products to be registered with the FDA, submit product and ingredient listings and health warning labels, and adhere to minimum age and identification restrictions.

“ ‘Deeming’ will allow FDA to issue future regulations regarding these products to reduce their harmfulness, if FDA determines that such regulations would be appropriate for the protection of the public health,” Felderbaum said.

Democrats U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Sen. Sherrod Brown say they support extending FDA’s regulatory authority over e-cigarettes. Ryan voted in favor of an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill to grant FDA that authority.

In April, Brown, D-Ohio, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell urging her to finalize the rules, first proposed in April 2014.

“The shameful e-cigarette marketing tactics employed by tobacco companies are aimed at encouraging a new generation to use tobacco,” Brown said. “It is past time for the FDA to regulate these dangerous products before more kids get hooked on e-cigarettes.”

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, says they giving the issue further consideration.

Asked whether she supports FDA regulation of e-cigarettes, Totally Wicked’s trainer, Siewaks said it depends on the regulations.

“If you’re just talking about taxes, I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t want to roll with the punches,” she said. But other regulations – proposed in Europe, for example – could require sealed non-refillable cartridges and prevent users from making their own liquids. “That takes that fun and hobby side away from vaping,” she said.

Sharpe backs FDA regulation and says his store is ready for when the regulations come. “The transition for us in this company would be extremely smooth, and that’s why we chose Totally Wicked,” he said.

Pictured: Co-owners Jay Sharpe and Dan Crump with store manager Derek Cooper.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.