Photography by Derek Bell

Some of us have habits we loathe which are so much a part of our everyday routine that they become almost impossible to curb and later quit altogether. One of those said habits currently under fire by every healthcare professional who has spoken to patients about the topic is smoking. The trail of physical dangers caused by smoking is a mile long, and recently, the socially unacceptable implications are gaining ground. No one wants to cut their time with loved ones short and many, who don’t partake in a puff or two on occasion, don’t want to see or smell the remnants of someone taking valuable years from their lives.

Nowadays, there is an alternative to lighting up which does not include a package of tasteless gum or a patch that delivers teeth-chattering doses of nicotine directly through the skin of a smoker hoping to kick the stinky little monkey from their back. Electronic cigarettes, also known as vapes, vapors, e-cigarettes or other new terms that may be as foreign to us as the device itself, are popping up all around us as folks trade their pack and lighter for tiny bottles of liquid and curious-looking handhelds. One downtown business owner was once perplexed with the new fad but after smoking for almost 20 years, he found that cigarettes were literally stifling his outdoor lifestyle and “vaping” gave him the needed wiggle room to escape from underneath the thumb of tobacco.

Ken Callaway, lifelong Roman and owner of Summit Mist Vapors (522 Broad Street, Rome), saw the need to remove cigarettes from his life when he would begin to lose his breath while doing what he loves, mountain climbing.

“I’m an explorer at heart. I really love the fire and the drive of life. It’s a beautiful thing,” he says. “But, I smoked for 19 years and one day while at the top of a mountain I lit a cigarette. I found that moment to be very counterproductive, you know, to be at the top of a mountain smoking a cigarette.

“I started feeling the realities associated with smoking. I was in my early 30s with a smokers cough and I got tired prematurely,” Callaway continues. “I had tried a couple of cheaper (cessation) kits with no success in quitting, so I generalized the entire market as ineffective and gimmicky.”

While working as a manager for a chemical lawn care company, Callaway noticed one of his clients puffing away on a strange-looking contraption. And being a smoker who had a burning desire to quit, he was naturally curious about what this gentleman was inhaling.

“He had this weird-looking device and he kept talking to me about it. He had bought extras for his friends and family and he sold me on it. I paid $30 for it along with the only flavor he had, which was pina colada. So, I thought here is another $30 wasted,” Callaway recalls. “But I never looked back after that and it surprised me because I wasn’t even looking for an alternative at that point. I had tried everything, or so I had thought, but it really changed my life.”

"I smoked for 19 years and one day while at the top of a mountain I lit cigarette. I found that moment to be very counterproductive, you know, to be at the top of mountain smoking a cigarette."

With a new-found method to quitting his pack-a-day addiction, Callaway started to explore new flavors and technology in the e-cigarette arena but his knowledge of grass, and different ways to make a lawn beautiful, was propelling him up the management chain of the lawn care company he worked for. Still, Callaway continued to research his new found passion until he could no longer keep it under wraps.

“I decided to open Summit Mist Vapors in October of 2013 inside a closet at a friend’s salon called Wiyanna’s Salon. I am forever grateful to her for letting me impose on her like that,” he says. “If she had not allowed me to open there first, I really couldn’t have done it.”

Now, his business has gained traction, allowing him to find his permanent home.

To grow his client base and provide smokers with an effective way to quit, Callaway started his outreach on Facebook. Soon, he found he was spending more and more time researching products and finding the safest stock for his customers.

“I was watching videos, reading tutorials and doing a lot of investigating on the juices and what was in them,” he says.

Callaway goes on to explain the process by which the vapor is emitted from the devices he sells. He fits smokers with a “kit” which includes a battery base, a tank to hold the flavoring or juice, an atomizer which heats the liquid and a tip used to inhale the vapor. It is important to note that he likes to have a consultation with his customers to find out how much they smoke and what brand they prefer to provide them with the most compatible setup. And with over 60 flavors available, he is confident he can meet he preference of any brand of cigarettes one may enjoy. Smokeless tobacco users can be happy to know that vaping can help them find a way to lay down their unwanted habit as well.

Since the end goal is to quit smoking all together, there are some enlightening facts he would like to share with those who are struggling to kick the butts and why vaping is far less harmful than tobacco products.

“Cigarettes are all proven to be very harmful. Once you light it, upon combustion, over 7,000 chemicals become present,” Callaway explains. “At least 11 of those chemicals have been added for addictive purposes. Then you have lots of carcinogens, carbon monoxide, tar and finally, nicotine. Nicotine, categorically, is no different than caffeine. It is an addictive stimulant. Nicotine is not exclusive to tobacco. It is also found in eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower and other vegetables. So, you can be exposed to nicotine in other places other than a cigarette or an e-cigarette.

“But, the vapor or juice has only four ingredients,” he continues. “It has propylene glycol, which is used in any breathing treatments you may get from the medical field. It is found in many aspects of the food industry and has been FDA approved for many years. Next, there is vegetable glycerin which people use topically as a skin moisturizer and is used in foods as well. Then there is flavoring and nicotine.”

The option to gradually taper down the milligrams of nicotine in the juices provides an avenue to completely remove the addictive qualities, hopefully leaving the urge to smoke in the dust.

“You can essentially entertain the habit of just puffing something without the addictive qualities of nicotine because we offer juices with zero nicotine concentrations,” he explains. “At the same time you can get rid of thousands of chemicals you might not know are even in the cigarettes you smoke.”

At Summit Mist Vapors, Callaway continues to look for ways to provide a safer alternative to smoking and he believes in taking steps to keep his products on the cutting edge of the industry.

“We chose not to mix juices in house. From a sanitary standpoint, without a few hundred thousand dollars, we are not able to able to have the adequate clean room necessary to produce a high level juice,” he says. “So, we contract laboratories with graduated chemists and master food practitioners who are experiences and certified. They also use FDA-certified pharmaceutical ingredients. It is all organic or high level ingredients. We don’t just go with the cheapest one because you get what you pay for. It also lasts longer and burns slower.

“There have been a few ingredients found to be carcinogenic, which still pale in comparison to any tobacco product, but the cool thing about the vaping industry that product is immediately pulled to keep the industry as safe as possible all the time,” Callaway adds. “All of our juices have had the ingredients found to be potentially harmful removed from them. However, there have been over 100,000 tests done on e-cigarettes, and so far, they have determined they are at least one-one thousandth as dangerous as a cigarette can be,” he explains.

 He has plans to host public discussions where he is able to bring together providers of e-cigarette products, putting some of the myths floating around his products to bed.

For those smokers who are pinching pennies, Callaway is also happy to report most smokers can expect to spend up to a quarter of the money they once used for cigarettes. A welcome boost to the bottom line is certainly helpful.

He shares the experience of one of his customers who was faced with the harsh realities of smoking when he was diagnosed with the early stages of COPD. After vaping for about a year, leaving smoking nearly three packs a day for 50 years behind, his lungs have begun to return to normal functioning according to his doctor.

The Summit Mist Vapors owner even convinced his mother, who wheezed and experienced complications while sleeping, to try the vapes. She, too, has felt the positive effects of switching to the electronic alternative, as she no longer experiences the breathing issues stemming from her cigarette smoking habit.

Roughly 80 percent of folks who come through his door find a way stop smoking, according to Callaway, and for some the habit is too hard to quit. He suggests incorporating the e-cigarette into a long-term plan, with advice from a physician or cessation counselor, if you are having difficulty quitting.

And since the places where smoking anything at all are dwindling every day, he has developed an environment that is welcoming to those who want to vape. His lounge is has a bar, complete with comfy stools, where customers are welcome to sit and try out the newest flavors available. And he has plans to invite local bands, poets or anyone who needs a place to stretch their creative wings a place to perform. Low-sitting leather chairs invite patrons for a seat in the rear of the shop. Furthermore, it’s nice to leave the building smelling of butterscotch or bubblegum, and not the stale stench of ashtrays. A valid ID proving you are at least 18 years of age is also required to protect the younger citizens, keeping the business on the legal side of all laws and ordinances. 

“I want it to be a positive place that is welcoming, where you don’t feel the need to buy something because you have been here three hours,” Callaway laughs. “Loitering is encouraged.”

Maybe we can all appreciate his clearing the air with a little Vaping 101.

I worked in the criminal justice field for 12 years as a probation officer and decided that a change of pace was necessary. I came to work for V3 Magazine In 2013 and they offered me a chance to do something I've always loved and lower my blood pressure simultaneously. When I'm not telling stories, folks can usually find me fishing or trying out new recipes with my family.