Coffee, tea and e-cigarettes

OLYMPIA: New products, unregulated in Thurston County, draw customers

Staff writerFebruary 28, 2012 

OLYMPIA – There’s a new business in downtown Olympia, one that offers coffee and tea, ambiance and the chance to try or purchase a device known as an electronic cigarette.

The business at 122 Capitol Way N. is Volcano Vapor Cafe. It opened in December, and business gradually is on the upswing after customer activity was temporarily slowed by January’s snow and ice storms, staff members reported.

Volcano Vapor Cafe is a Hawaii-based franchise, and this is its first in Washington. The owners, all of whom have ties to South Sound, are Zakk Johnston; John Conner, who also runs an espresso stand in Lacey called Mocha Magic; and Cameron Daniels, who also runs an espresso-machine repair business called Espresso Rescue. There’s also Clio McClure, business manager, and a small staff to round out the operation.

Although each owner brings a different set of skills to the business, Daniels and Conner, both longtime smokers, were intrigued by the e-cigarette product because it helped them transition from the smoke-filled traditional cigarette to one that emits a lightly scented vapor.

Conner, 42, said he had smoked for 26 years before switching to electronic cigarettes. He said his wife has never smoked and then they had a child, which made it more urgent to kick the habit.

“This thing changed my life,” Conner said about the device.

Inside the cafe, there’s a coffee and tea bar. Then there’s a separate bar where the business sells e-cigarette kits or provides samples and demonstrations.

The device looks a bit like an oversize pen. It contains a battery that can be recharged and a vial of fluid, which includes nicotine or not, a flavor and other ingredients.

Once you exhale, you release vapor that quickly dissipates. Volcano Vapor Cafe isn’t smoke-filled. Instead, the cafe aroma is a bit like the 29 different e-cigarette flavors the cafe offers, such as Waikiki Watermelon or vanilla or a chocolate-infused flavor.

The cafe sells samples for $3 and the electronic cigarette kits range from $65 to about $100, McClure said. The tiny bottles of fluid, which come in two sizes, list ingredients as well as a warning similar to that found on a traditional cigarette carton. The smaller size costs $13; McClure estimated that the bottle would last a pack-a-day smoker about a week and a half.

A pack of traditional cigarettes in Washington sells for about $10.

The business owners also have found themselves explaining some misconceptions about the e-cigarette device.

Some customers have wondered if they need a card – similar to needing a card for a marijuana dispensary (they do not) – and some have wondered if it’s dangerous.

Recently in the news, a Florida man was injured when his device exploded. McClure said that likely was the result of someone modifying the device. She said that they urge customers not to do that and that they check identification to make sure they’re not serving minors.

“We are adamant about no kids experiencing it,” she said.

Thurston County does not regulate e-cigarettes, said health officer Dr. Diana Yu. In King County, e-cigarettes follow the same rules as set by the statewide smoking ban.

Volcano Vapor Cafe is more than just e-cigarettes, though. It sells locally roasted coffee – a brand called Phantom – as well as organic teas from The Tao of Tea in Portland. They expect to add more live music shows, McClure said, and the cafe also has free Wi-Fi service.

McClure said the cafe hours are 6:30 a.m.-midnight daily and 10:30 a.m.-2 a.m. weekends.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403
rboone@theolympian.com

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