Downtown’s Vaping Pioneers Aim High

Melissa Bailey PhotoInstead of smoking a cigarette, Art Boivin, Jr. bellied up to a downtown “flavor bar” and took a drag of Neon Cloud on his Kanger eVod VV.

“It tastes like heaven,” declared Boivin.

Boivin (pictured) is one of the regulars at White Buffalo Vapors at 748 Chapel St., the city’s first and only e-cigarette lounge.

The shop has been quietly building a customer base for several months at its digs across from 360 State St. and the Elm City Market. By summer’s end, the store will expand to sell espresso and tea and to serve as a venue for open-mic poetry and music, according to Sammy Chamino.

Chamino is one of three 20-somethings who opened the business together in March, getting in on a craze that is sweeping the nation. The owners—Chamino, Sasha Zabar and Max Young—are best friends and e-cigarette enthusiasts who have used vaping, or smoking e-cigarettes, as a means of quitting smoking.

Now they’re hoping to ride the vaping mania along a historic stretch of lower Chapel Street that has shown signs of reviving while also facing its share of vacant buildings and quality-of-life problems.

Monday evening found the White Buffalo trio working behind the “flavor bar,” serving customers free samples of “juice.”

Boivin sat down at the bar, which has a “no smoking” sign. He ordered a combo he calls “Neon Cloud”—a mix of Neon Iguana and Crimson Cloud, two house-made flavors of fruity “juice.” The juice is a mix of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavoring, water and nicotine that White Buffalo Vapors mixes in a kitchen space near Mechanic Street. Boivin filled his battery-powered e-cigarette with Neon Cloud and pressed a button to light up.

He inhaled a vapor containing 1.8 percent, or 18 milligrams per milliliter, of nicotine. He said his goal is to cut down to zero.

Boivin, like many customers entering the threshold of the “vapothecary,” is trying to quit smoking cigarettes. A friend turned him on to vaping, or inhaling nicotine in a vapor instead of as smoke. This way, he can control the amount of nicotine per puff—and eventually cut down to nicotine-free juice.

Boivin, who’s 39, of Watertown, smoked for 20 years. He said he has basically quit smoking—as long as his e-cig is charged up and he doesn’t run out of juice. He motioned to a drawstring backpack, which he said was full of juice vials he bought at White Buffalo Vapors. He said he visits the lounge once or twice every day.

Boivin showed up at the shop Monday with a friend, Giovanni Zurlo.

Zurlo, who smoked for 20 years, said he tried all sorts of ways to quit: patches, gums, “hitting myself in the head.” Now Zurlo has gone two months without lighting a cigarette. Instead, he picked up his double-coiled e-cigarette and took a puff of Carrie, one of the flavors White Buffalo Vapors makes in-house. (It’s named after Young’s mom.) The dosage of nicotine was low—just 0.6 percent. It tasted like kiwi and blueberry, he said.

Those types of fruity flavors have prompted warnings from U.S.  Sen. Dick Blumenthal and others about the dangers of marketing nicotine to kids. As it stands, e-cigarettes are unregulated.

Chamino, a self-described “bleeding-heart liberal,” said he supports regulating the industry. He said he has banned e-cigarette sales to minors in his store ahead of a federal movement to do so.

But he said he does not agree with critics who couch vaping as unsafe. It’s much better for you than traditional smoking, he argued, because there’s no combustion and no tar.

Chamino and Zabar said they both used to smoke. They were healthy guys, they said, except for the smoking habit. Zabar said he started to “feel dirty” from smoking. His hands smelled; his girlfriend urged him to stop. Six months ago, he did—by sucking in vapor in flavors like Nectar by Adam Bomb and Cloud Science Alpha by Big Teleos.

Chamino, who’s 26, grew up in New Jersey along with Young. Chamino said he moved to New Haven to live with some friends. He met Zabar in a political science class at Southern Connecticut State University; Zabar played Mitt Romney, and Chamino played Obama, in a mock debate. Chamino then recruited Young to move to New Haven and live here.

Young (pictured), who was deep into vaping before his friends, came up with the idea to open an e-cigarette store and lounge. Vapothecaries were exploding across the country, but not in New Haven. They found a vacant storefront across from the 360 State apartment tower, in a building owned by Chris Nicotra’s Olympia Properties. The storefront used to house the Las Vegas cell phone shop. It had been vacant for six months when the White Buffalo moved in.

The trio replaced the floor with wood and exposed the brick walls. They opened in mid-March with subtle signage that is most visible to people waiting right outside the door for the public bus. The store serves a mix of customers who reflect the range of people getting into e-cigarettes. Some enter in search of a $50 starter kit to help them kick the smoking habit. Others are hobbyists looking to scoop up a $250 Hana Modz e-cigarette device with a 30-watt chip, and load in gothic-imaged flavors like Suicide Bunny’s Mother’s Milk, which tastes like strawberry custard.

The store sits on a block of Chapel that represents its own mix of discount and gourmet. On one side of the street lie the organic fruits of the Elm City Market and vintage dresses at the English Market. On the other side, where White Buffalo roams, a Dollar Tree is moving into a long-vacant commercial space.

Chamino said he has been trying to get the city to power-wash the sidewalk on his side of the street so it looks more appealing. The bus stop right outside the shop has been a mixed blessing, Zabar (pictured) said: It has brought both down-and-out loiterers and valued customers.

This summer, Chamino and his partners plan to tear down the shop’s drop-ceiling and finish renovating the back half of the store. They plan to start serving espresso and tea, start up open mic nights and movie nights, and open up a back patio for customers.

“We want to have a community space,” Chamino said.

He envisions the store as “the healthy alternative to the Owl Shop,” the popular cigar-and-live-music joint on College Street: instead of cigars, e-cigs. Instead of alcohol, coffee and tea.

If the plan goes well, who knows, the White Buffalo may expand beyond New Haven.

Next year,” declared Young, “in Jerusalem.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 10, 2014  4:10pm

Keep puffing.
Some say vaping e-cigarettes is worse than smoking the real thing.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on July 10, 2014  6:25pm

Are these guys selling to minors? I wish this article had fleshed that out.

All the sweet flavors seem reminiscent of alcohol products that are marketed to kids.

Fwiw, and I have no real problem with the industry. Except that Senator Blumenthal is right and it needs to be regulated.

posted by: Jones Gore on July 10, 2014  6:38pm

I watched a house hearing on E-cigs and listen some rep question a man that involved in the industry and here is what the Rep asked him.

Paraphrasing: What is the purpose of making different flavors if you are not marketing to children….it just doesn’t make sense to me.

My jaw dropped. The House reps line of questioning would make alcohol made in different flavors questionable.

Now I see whats wrong with democracy.

posted by: ctguy1955 on July 11, 2014  1:05pm

I got a good chuckle reading the link to the florida Lung Association
article. The way they use words like “May/could/possibly and others
that are pure conjuncture are just too lame and the way they cherry
pick their facts is beyond belief.

I make my own juice, and I buy the 4 FDA approved ingredients from
a lab in Florida. I dont want tobacco taste or flavor, as I have not had
a cigarette in over 140 days, and I like the taste of Kiwi Strawberry.

I went to the Springfield Mass Vaping Convention last month and sat in on panel discussions on health and regulations and its amazing how GOV is scrambling to try and make up tax revenue they are losing because so many people like me have stopped smoking and started to vape.  Analog cigarettes have over 7000 chemicals, My e-juice has 4

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 12, 2014  10:55am

For those who still think that this is safe.Look at who is now geting into the game.

With Merger, Tobacco Takes On Technology.

A combined Reynolds and Lorillard would be the front-runner in e-cigarette technology. They would also benefit from an absence of advertising restrictions on e-cigarettes. That advertising might even provide a boost for traditional cigarettes.;.nav=photo-spot

The fundamentals of the e-cigarette phenomena are not the “new technology” or the “transformative effects” of that technology. The essence of the e-cigarette boom is the use of a relatively simple device to deliver doses of a highly habit-forming drug without all of the other irrelevant effects. Finally, cigarette makers are out of the closet as to what their real business has always been. I remember well when cigarette advertisements touted the “great taste” of cigarettes. Nonsense. Smoking has always been principally about drug delivery. Why on earth we seem reluctant to regulate or limit this new “purer” way to deliver the drug is beyond me. For anyone who believes that Lorillard and Reynolds want to merge in order to better work with people who need to quit smoking (the current tobacco company excuse for e-cigarettes), I have a bridge I can sell you. Unless of course you’re too busy chasing the Easter Bunny…

Kenneth Boger

Like I said.Keep puffing.

posted by: Whitney Cyclist on July 13, 2014  1:35pm

Ah, yes, “the healthy alternative to the Owl Shop.” I’m not especially reassured that one of the owners, with an obvious financial stake in the discussion, personally believes it to be safe.

How ironic that they have a “No Smoking” sign prominently displayed. Without any medical evidence that second-hand “vape” is safe, it is unethical to exploit the regulatory loophole that allows using e-cigs indoors.

As a physician, I’m dismayed that the NH Independent ran this “puff-piece” without any medical commentary. Really, this amounts to unpaid advertising for a business whose products have not been proven to be effective for smoking cessation, or safe for public use.

posted by: ctguy1955 on July 14, 2014  12:29pm

Ironic ?  People who vape dont want to be around others who smoke analogs. Second hand smoke is proven to be bad.
    Its pretty easy to look things up on the internet. Here are a list of clinical studies done.  CASAA may cherry pick only the good ones, as all
people only interject what they like for you to see.
  This would be a good read for you about people being able to go
off their blood pressure meds as it improved once they stopped smoking and started to vape.

There are VG and PG alternatives to vaping as well, all natural vapes are sold by some companies.

The above article is one of many found by typing in vaping second hand smoke. Again, many Doctors encourage patients to switch.

Vaping is SO much of a better alternative to smoking cigarettes that I cant even fathom anyone saying its not.  Ive gone from 1.8 nicotine and now am using 1.2 and after 150 days, have not gained a single pound and I can ride my bike for miles and not get out of breath at all.

posted by: Whitney Cyclist on July 14, 2014  1:33pm

“Its pretty easy to look things up on the internet.”

Yes. Yes it is. On that we agree.

Of course, this says nothing about the quality of what you may find.

posted by: tonybaldwin on July 14, 2014  9:36pm

I’m 45 years old. I gave up smoking, after 20 years of it, 3 years ago now, with e-cigs (had tried other methods and always failed). I still vape 3 years later, and have purchased products from White Buffalo (have a bottle of their Cubano juice on my desk in front of me).
This is anecdotal evidence, but I can tell you, my physician says my lungs are clear and clean. My heart rate and blood pressure are excellent. I run and cycle regularly now (could barely climb the stairs on my back porch before the switch). I ran the Cheshire Half Marathon in April in under 2 hours (01:48, better than 90% of entrants!).
I’m in better shape than I’ve been in for 20 years, and I credit vaping for helping me stop smoking. Also, it clearly doesn’t appear to be harming my health in any way now.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 16, 2014  9:31am

Cigarette Makers Are in an Arms Race for Exotic Vapor Flavors


Keep Puffing.Look at what they are adding.

K A technician filling bottles with the flavored nicotine-laced liquid for electronic cigarettes at a plant in Miami. Credit Joe Raedle/Getty Images eep puffing.;.nav=top-news