Belfast's 'vape cafe' will serve up a taste of e-cigarettes
Trend reflects growing popularity of devices among smokers
Belfast is set to get its first 'vape cafe' next month as the popularity of electronic cigarettes continues to grow.
The new cafe E-Cigarette Club on Royal Avenue will offer customers the choice of 140 flavours, or "juices," to smoke - as well as serving the usual tea and coffee.
E-cigarettes, also known as a vaporisers, were added to the basket of goods with which the government measures inflation, the Consumer Prices Index (CPI).
E-cigarette stores have become popular around the UK and Northern Ireland, and are the fastest-growing category of retail on the British high street, research from PwC and researchers the Local Data Company found.
The Royal Avenue venue is the second vape cafe in Northern Ireland after E-Cigarette Club opened its first cafe in Lisburn two years ago - said to have been the first in Ireland.
Lisburn businessman Jordan Stewart (35), co-owner with his wife Nadia, put the success of e-cigarettes down to two factors. "E-cigarettes are extremely effective in helping people make the switch from cigarettes," he said.
"I think part of the success is the flavours. You don't have that horrible smell and instead you get amazing flavours."
Vaporisers include nicotine, the addictive element in cigarettes, but not tobacco, which is believed to make them less harmful than cigarettes. However, as the industry is in its infancy, the long-term effects are yet to be known.
Mr Stewart, himself a former smoker, said there was "no definitive answer" on the long-term effects. "To get a clinical trial I think you have to do it over 10 years. It isn't that old yet as an industry. There still is work to be done and there still is obviously new things that come up that we keep on top of."
Mr Stewart added that studies had found there was no "second-hand smoke" risk to vaping. "By the time it leaves your lungs the particles are negligible."
E-cigarette shops have seen rapid growth in the rest of the UK, with Scotland seeing the biggest change, Matthew Hopkinson, director of the Local Data Company, said. "All regions have seen growth with the north west (of England) having the most outlets (223) and the greatest growth occurring in Scotland with 90% increase in the last 12 months."
The presence of vaporiser retailers in shopping centres, and its perceived help in getting smokers off cigarettes, have been the main causes in their popularity, Mr Hopkinson said.
"E-cigarettes have proved to be a very successful alternative to smoking with perceived health gains which have yet to be proved. "Shopping centre pop-up units have proved a successful and low-cost entry point for the key chains (such as Socialites and E-cig Wizard) growing their presence."
E-cigarettes were the fastest-growing product in UK supermarkets last year, as sales rose 49% in 2014.