We may not be driving flying cars, but the times have surely changed. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the “vapor” culture — a lifestyle centered on using inhalers known as vape pens or e-cigarettes to “smoke” non-flammable flavored liquids free of tobacco. Think of it sort of as hookah for the Jetsons era.
As the trend gains more and more popularity in the Bay Area, new shops dedicated to vaping are sprouting up throughout the region.
That’s where Vapor Planes lands. The new Fremont vapor lounge and retail shop features a relaxed, upscale environment for those new to vapor culture and longtime hobbyists alike.
Located at 3679 Thornton Ave. in Fremont (next to Satomi Sushi), Vapor Planes carries a variety of vape pens, or vapes, ranging from $30 starter kits to $300 customizable devices, along with an assortment of flavored liquids with varying levels of nicotine — including 0 — starting at $6.99 for a 10 ml bottle.
But don’t call Vapor Planes a smoke shop.
“It’s a lot more interactive,” co-owner Sam Randhawa, 28, told Patch.
Randhawa and partner Munvir Aulakh, 31, both of Union City, opened Vapor Planes last month, with a grand opening slated for this Saturday, Dec. 14, in hopes of creating a fun and safe place for people to hang out.
The store features a lounge with two couches, flatscreen TVs equipped with NFL Sunday Ticket, drink and snack vending machines, and a “tasting bar” for guests to sample the different flavors the store carries. They plan to host tasting events for businesses and community groups as an alternative happy hour and conference room meetings.
“We want it to be a lively place for people, whether they’re hobbyists or starters,” Randhawa said. “We want to appeal to everyone.”
Catering to all crowds is what sets Vapor Planes apart from other similar shops. The store features a friendly, welcoming setting with an emphasis on customer service and education.
While vaping isn’t new — the first e-cigarettes were introduced a decade ago — they’re only now getting popular in the Bay Area. It’s easy for many newcomers to get swindled into buying more expensive products, Rhandawa and Aulakh said. They plan on creating how-to videos for their websites to help out newer customers.
Randhawa and Aulakh also put an emphasis on local products, carrying brands such as Vapor Penz from Fremont and Totally Vaped Out from Castro Valley.
To vape or not to vape?
It’s apparent that vaping is becoming more and more common — you’ll see people vaping while driving, at restaurants and bars, outside of coffee shops. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of five adults has tried an e-cigarette.
And Vapor Planes isn’t alone in this new smoking renaissance. There’s Art of Vapor in Fremont, Tri-City Vapes at NewPark Mall, It Is Vapor 5 in downtown Hayward and the just-opened Cool Vape near the Hayward-Union City border.
But vaping isn’t without its controversy, and health officials are weary of the trend. Despite appearing to have fewer toxins than traditional cigarettes, the CDC says more research is needed to determine its long-term effects, especially among young people.
While there is no regulation in place in California, the uncertainty of vapes and e-cigarettes has given some Bay Area cities cause for alarm.
Fremont itself does not have any regulations in place against the use of e-cigarettes or vapor lounges, according to City of Fremont Planning Manager Kristie Wheeler, but one of Fremont's Tri-City counterparts has taken a bold stance against them.
On Tuesday night, the City of Union City passed a ban on vapor lounges from opening up in their city, along with e-cigarettes to be regulated as tobacco products, despite the lack of tobacco in them. Union City officials said the devices might entice youth to pick up the hobby.
Proponents, however, believe that vaping can help cigarette smokers kick the habit, and promote it as a clean, safer alternative to the Marlboro man’s method of smoking because vapor liquids don’t contain any tobacco, only nicotine — if you want it. Customers can opt for zero-nicotine liquids, Randhawa and Aulakh explained. In fact, Randhawa often uses zero-nicotine himself, he said.
“After you vape, you feel clean,” Randhawa said.
The hobby has helped smokers ween off of smoking tobacco, the Vapor Planes owners said.
“Everyone I know starts with a high amount of nicotine and regresses,” Aulakh said.
Randhawa added that his father has taken up the hobby in recent months, trading his pack of cigarettes for a vape pen.
With this notion in mind, Vapor Planes will offer 50-percent off of select starter kits to those who trade in their pack of cigarettes during their grand opening Saturday.
The Vapor Planes owners are confident that the public will be more receptive to the idea, and the shop, as more information comes out.
“It might become the new hookah lounge,” Randhawa said of the trend.
And he’s confident that vaping is here to say.
“We wouldn’t open up a shop if it was just a fad,” Randhawa said.
Vapor Planes is located at 3679 Thornton Ave. in Fremont and is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Their grand opening will be held Saturday, Dec. 14 and will feature an art gallery, food, music giveaways and special promotions. See details in flyer above.