It smells like a large basket of fruits gone bad. At least, to me. But among the hundreds of nicotine-laced flavours called e-juices on the shelves of one of Delhi’s first vaping shops, this one is the owner, Aalok Awasthi’s favourite. The smell, he says, is sweet-and-sour melon, and so is the experience of being a vape shop owner. Located in Greater Kailash II, South Delhi the shop sits nestled between a burger food stall and a gym equipment store.

Awasthi, once a computer engineer, used to smoke 20 cigarettes a day. But all that is in the past. He switched to vaping three years ago. He pauses, takes a long drag, and puffs out what he calls “a cloud”, not smoke.

Three out of four customers that walk into his store are people looking to quit smoking or hookah, and they’re encouraged by a sign at his door—stop smoking, start vaping. The rest, he says, are youngsters looking to buy this relatively less harmful but cool device. Or so they think. But it’s a moral dilemma, he says.

It’s a dilemma because while vaping can wean its user of the tobacco habit, ridding one of the cancer threat that comes out of tar and smoke inhalation with cigarettes, it’s also addictive. More so, because it’s sold on the promise of being a healthier, cooler alternative to smoking.

That notion though isn’t exactly accurate. But before we get to that, there are two fundamental questions to answer. 1) What exactly is vaping? 2) How popular is it, really?

A vape is a device which allows you to inhale and exhale “the cloud”. An e-juice is used to create the substance in the device, which, like Awasthi’s sweet-and-sour melon, comes in different flavours. The vape itself is small, hand-held. It could look like a miniature walkie-talkie or resemble a hookah or a cigar or even a cigarette. The most popular kind is one that looks and feels like a plastic cigarette. The overall idea is to inhale the heated e-juice and exhale a cloud, which looks like smoke and serves as an alternative to smoking cigarettes.

And it’s an alternative that’s catching up fast.

Aalok Awasthi, the owner of vaping store in South Delhi

The market inhales

Awasthi insists that his business has grown rapidly since he opened in January 2017. His Gurugram store, which he claims was the first vaping store in India, profited by selling only to those who were looking to quit tobacco. Today, he has two stores, in Gurugram and in Greater Kailash. He sells three times more devices and e-juices every month now than when he started. Even though half a dozen other such stores have opened in Delhi, about 20 major distributors of devices and e-juices have developed their brands.

AUTHOR

Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

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