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A Pilot Study of Retail 'Vape Shops' in the San Francisco Bay Area.

  • Author(s): Burbank, Andrea D;
  • Thrul, Johannes;
  • Ling, Pamela M
  • et al.

The use of electronic cigarettes or vape devices is increasing, and products are evolving rapidly. This study assessed retail vape shops in the San Francisco Bay Area to describe store characteristics, products offered, advertisements and health claims, as well as employees' perceptions of their customers' demographics, and practices to support smoking cessation. We conducted store audits of shops that exclusively sell vape devices with physical addresses in San Francisco and Alameda counties (n=23, response rate 72%) and interviewed vape shop owners/employees. While all stores carried second and third generation vape devices, 83% of stores did not carry first generation devices. Employees estimated the majority of their customers bought devices for smoking cessation or to replace tobacco, and a small minority purchased for first-time recreational use. Employees most frequently recommended dosing nicotine based on usual cigarette consumption, adjusting doses based on "throat hit" or cravings, use of a second or third generation e-cigarette, and encouraged customers to experiment and customize to "whatever works for you" as smoking cessation advice. Vape shops report a significant number of their customers are interested in smoking cessation, and employees are giving smoking cessation advice. A subpopulation of customers includes some nicotine novices. Studies of vape shops should include both observations and interviews with employees in order to detect important informal practices that may differ from posted signs or printed advertising. These practices include cessation counseling, product claims, and custom discount prices or bargaining.

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