Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, but in the high-tech world, smokers can puff away without fire or smoke.
It’s vaping, inhaling the emissions of a device that produces a chemically enriched flavored steam.
The medical world and the Food and Drug Administration aren’t convinced that vaping isn’t harmful to people’s health. The chief medical officer of the American Lung Association fears that breathing in a nicotine-infused vapor is bad for people.
The FDA is concerned about the potential for addiction and has opened a public discussion about vaping.
But vaping advocates such as Dale Rohrabaugh, co-owner of the Las Vegas Vapor Lounge, are convinced that it’s a healthier alternative to smoking.
Rohrabaugh, a recovering alcoholic, and his business partner opened the lounge in January with an unusual twist — it caters to customers battling their addictions, including smoking, drinking and illegal drug use.
The lounge offers a place to smoke without cigarettes and drink without alcohol. Attached to the lounge is a meeting room for 12-step groups battling their demons.
Question: What exactly is a vapor lounge?
Answer: It’s a place to go where vaping is welcomed. There are a lot of vapor shops in town that sell devices and juices, but they don’t have the atmosphere of the lounge. We have a real lounge feel here. This building has been here for years as an old Las Vegas stomping ground with a lot of character and a lot of history. It’s a perfect fit for our business model.
Question: What kind of history and character?
Answer: This building used to be the old Shakey’s (Pizza Parlor) and the old Fellini’s Italian Restaurant, which has moved to the Stratosphere. A lot of the old Vegas characters used to hang out here.
Question: For the uninitiated, what is “vaping?”
Answer: It’s a healthier alternative to smoking. The head of the Food and Drug Administration says it’s healthier than regular smoking, but it still has to be regulated and controlled by Big Tobacco because they know what’s good for us. That’s exactly what he said.
Question: How did you get started with the Las Vegas Vapor Lounge?
Answer: I was originally a distributor for Green Smoke, one of those analog ecigarette companies. I started that in 2009. I successfully quit smoking by using them. Today, the technology has improved dramatically to the personal device, which has a two-day battery charge. It delivers any level of nicotine that you want, either high nicotine like a regular cigarette or you can wean yourself down to a really low level. I believe nicotine is as dangerous as caffeine, but it doesn’t cause cancer. The tar and the carcinogens inside is what causes cancer. I really believe this is a healthier alternative.
Question: So why a lounge? What do you provide here?
Answer: We have a full kitchen and a full nonalcoholic beverage bar. We have an arcade section with games and a pool table. It’s a comfortable place for people to get together and drink lattes, espresso and coffee, soft drinks and energy drinks. We’ll be serving raw juices soon.
Question: Is the lounge a profitable venture?
Answer: Yes, and we’ve been open since Jan. 1. Last Saturday night, we had about 150 people in here. The weekends are usually our busiest times, although we occasionally get good crowds at midweek. It helps that we are the first 24/7 vape lounge in Las Vegas.
Question: What kind of food do you serve?
Answer: We serve a full American menu of cheeseburgers, pork chops and ribs. We have a great catfish.
Question: Vaping seems to be a growing phenomenon. True?
Answer: The vaping community is very fast-growing. It’s almost like a new culture of people from all walks of life who not only enjoy the benefits of not smoking, but also the social aspect of it. There are all different kinds of nicotine delivery devices, which we call “mods.” But it’s really a social thing, a new fad, a new clique. It’s almost like groups of people that own iPhones.
Question: How do they work?
Answer: It has a lithium battery that ignites a coil inside a glass or Pyrex tank. That vaporizes a liquid with or without nicotine, turning it into a very pleasant, nonburning vapor. There are lots of different flavors: regular tobacco, caramel tobacco, vanilla tobacco. There are fruity flavors like peaches and pear, kiwi-watermelon, kiwi-strawberry and piña colada.
We buy our juices and we invent our own. Ours are mostly vegetable-based ingredients and a lot less harmful to the body.
Question: Why do you think the public still holds vaping in low esteem?
Answer: Perceptions are changing slowly, but it’s still new. It’s a $2 billion-a-year industry now and it’s expected to go to $30 billion a year within 10 years. I think a lot of people look at vapor as smoke, but it’s the same as steam coming out of a boiling teapot. Nothing harmful can exist within the vapor.
Question: How did the idea emerge to offer a recovery lounge?
Answer: The recovery club is the brainchild of my business partner, Gary Stavinsky, and he had operated a Steps Club in the early ’90s over at Sahara (Avenue) and Jones (Boulevard). He had it there for about 10 years before it closed down and reopened here. It’s for people in recovery from various addictions, alcohol, drugs, gambling. Everyone is welcome here and it’s a safe place to come without worrying about alcohol or drugs being around. We have about 20 different groups that meet here.
Question: Describe what happens at some of these meetings.
Answer: It’s a traditional 12-step program where people hear solutions to their problems. A lot of people who go through 12-step programs don’t do the 12 steps, but if you really want to be successful, it’s very important to complete them and incorporate them into your life. They’re all based on spiritual principles that have been around for thousands of years, but worded in a way that we can understand it.
Question: Who leads the discussion?
Answer: They’re all done by separate people from within the groups. In Alcoholics Anonymous, there are no leaders. We’re all the same, at the same level. We occasionally get some office support, but for the most part, it’s self-run. It’s a great concept for an organization.
Question: How many people attend sessions?
Answer: It varies. At some meetings, there are only five. At some meetings, there are 100. This room holds 100 people and we’ve had 100 people at a time in this room.
Question: What are some of your expectations for the future?
Answer: I think the exposure by the Food and Drug Administration will help people realize that vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking. Right now, the agency is having an open discussion on regulating the vaping industry.
Question: Will you and your business partner look to expand?
Answer: We’re in it for the long haul and we’ll look to expand to other areas. It’s a new industry and this is my first time as a business owner. It’s been really challenging on every level. The biggest challenge for me is learning how to run a business successfully and managing employees.
Question: Do you expect there be more vapor lounges in Southern Nevada or would you consider expansion in other states?
Answer: I would consider other states. My partner and I have a large network of people we work with and we’d consider out-of-state opportunities. We’ve looked at Oregon and Asheville, N.C. Las Vegas has more than 80 vape shops in town, so it’s a very competitive market. But we also have the highest percentage of smokers than any state, so that helps us. But in some of these other places, there’s greater growth potential.
Source: Review Journal