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E-Cigarette Survey

February 12, 2010, 10:05 PM by Perry Groten

E-Cigarette Survey
SIOUX FALLS, SD - South Dakota voters will decide the fate of a statewide smoking ban in November. But a smoke-free mindset has already infused many businesses that don't allow their customers to light up. Now, technology is paving the way for patrons to puff away even in smoke-free zones.  We find out what kind of reception electronic cigarettes are receiving among the non-smoking crowd.

It's lunchtime at Dean-O's Grille, where The King holds court and the daily special rules.  But check your cigarettes at the door. Dean-O's has been smoke-free since last spring.

"We get a lot of people that come in and they're very happy that we are non-smoking," Manager Tonya Parker said.

Parker has been a lifelong smoker.

"I smoke a whole lot less obviously at work, but the fact that I have something in my hand, I'd sure feel a whole lot better," Parker said.

So we introduced Parker to this electronic device called an e-cigarette that allows people to puff without the smell or the smoke.

"Oh, that's just too weird," Parker said.

The smoke Parker is blowing out is actually water vapor from the liquid nicotine filter attached to a battery-charged end that even lights up while when she inhales. The FDA hasn't signed off on e-cigarettes, but manufacturers tout them as safer than smoking because there's no tobacco.

The e-cigarettes even come with their own calling card that says they're not subject to any state or federal no-smoking laws. But it's up to each business to decide whether to allow patrons to puff on one.

"I wish they would catch on. Why not? That way, the people that smoke would come up here," Parker said.

We wanted to find out if non-smokers are comfortable around e-cigarettes.

"I'd like to even walk around with it. Diddly doo.  Yeah, let's find out," Parker said.

The e-cigarette looks so much like the real thing, it draws immediate attention in a smoke-free business.

Customer: I don't like smoke.  It bothers me.
Parker: Really, that's too bad.
Customer: I thought your door said no smoking.
Customer: It is no smoking.
Parker: Yeah.

These customers weren't at all impressed even after Parker explained how the e-cigarette works.

Parker: Don't you think it's kind of cool?
Customer: No.
Parker: You don't?
Customer: Not at all.

The e-cigarette isn't making a good first impression, so far.

Parker: Doesn't that bother you guys that I'm smoking?
Customer: Yeah, we don't like it.

But after a while, it becomes more of a curiosity than an intrusion.

Customer: It looks like a pen, or something.
Parker: It's one of those e-cigarette things.

But can the e-cigarette peacefully co-exist with customers?

Parker: If I honestly sat down at a table next to you, would that bother you if I was smoking it?
Customer: That thing?
Parker: Yeah.
Customer: I don't think so, I don't know.

Customer: As long as I can't smell it, I don't care.
Customer: I can't smell it at all.

The e-cigarette even sparked some debate over the smoking ban vote.

Customer: You take smoking away from a person, it's just like taking a gun away from you.  You're losing one of your rights.

E-cigarettes haven't surfaced yet among the clients at Dean-O's. But Parker expects customers will eventually warm to these surrogate smokes as technology redefines what it means to light up.

Some other smoke-free businesses we checked with discourage the use of e-cigarettes because they believe the cigarettes may give customers the mistaken impression that smoking is allowed.

Price could be another drawback to customers. E-cigarettes cost around $100 when you include replacement filters and the battery charger.

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