Vape shops popping up everywhere

Suddenly, vape shops are everywhere. Just about every strip mall in South Florida seems to have one offering assorted battery-powered tubes and an array of colorful bottles of liquid nicotine. Inside, customers puff out fleeting, white clouds of water vapor as they sample the latest flavors — hazelnut coffee, pineapple cheesecake, peanut butter cup or something called Miami vice. But the booming vaping business is in for a shock. An industry that has operated essentially without rules faces a regulatory upheaval dubbed by some as the “vapocalypse.”

After largely ignoring vaping for a decade, the federal Food and Drug Administration is set to roll out a finalized rule this summer that would treat e-cigs just like real cigs. The same mandates that require tobacco products to include health warnings and test ingredients will apply to electronic cigarettes, vaporizers and the liquid nicotine inside.

Vaping at Doral store and lounge VaporShark Vaping on e-cigarettes and e-liquids at VaporShark in Doral with store manager Bryan Marichal. Video by Al Diaz. Critics of vaping, who are particularly concerned about the appeal of candy-flavored nicotine to teens, say regulations are long overdue.

But many in the industry fear the costs of meeting FDA approval will shut down the thousands of independent shops selling what they tout as a healthier alternative to cigarettes. “It’s been the Wild West,” said Benjamin Garcia, owner of Kings Crest Liquid in Hollywood, a maker of flavored nicotine. Some of the mandates will be easy to meet, like slapping health-warning labels on the bottles. It’s the more daunting regulations — testing the liquid inside — that concerns Garcia.

The cost for a company to do so is estimated to run from $2 million to $10 million, according to one consulting company cited by the Wall Street Journal.

Where cigarette use has steadily declined, dropping to an all-time low last year, its smokeless cousin is on the rise. From 2012 to 2015, the vaping industry went from an estimated $1 billion to $3.5 billion, according to Wells Fargo Securities, and some business experts speculate it will surpass traditional tobacco in 10 years.