Inside a swanky cafe on Bel Air's Bond Street, Mickey Cucchiella is offering customers a lighter way to light up.
The former 98 Rock host recently opened The Vape Lounge, a new "vape and coffee shop" that he hopes can tap into the blossoming market of electronic cigarette smoking.
Cuchiella, who opened the lounge in late September with partner Loria Scheisser, said the new venture made perfect sense after he left radio in June.
The host announced at the time he was battling depression and posted a video explaining he was stepping down to deal with his divorce and his mother's death.
Cuchiella had started vaping – using e-cigarettes – in March.
"The first day I started vaping, I never smoked another cigarette, and I have been a smoker for 20 years," he said. "I was blown away by it."
Now he hopes to expand vape lounges to sites beyond Harford County. Cuchiella lives in Kingsville and "just thought [Bel Air] was a good location."
"I knew there was kind of a subculture brewing with vapors," he said, calling the industry in its infancy.
The store features a variety of smoking supplies and "vape juices," the liquid that produces vapor, in flavors like banana nut bread and butterscotch.
The lounge also offers TVs, seating and coffee by Baltimore Coffee for customers to hang out.
The products will be available for sale online as well.
"I hated the fact that I couldn't go drink a coffee and smoke a cigarette," Cuchiella explained. "I thought it would be a good combination."
Cuchiella is also partnering with Bryan and Rachel Walker, owners of Vape Dojo in Ellicott City and Harrisonburg, Va.
He said he is getting customers from as far away as southern Delaware, southern Pennsylvania, Cecil County and Baltimore County and he expects the e-cigarette market to keep growing.
"We also wanted to expose these devices and these lifestyles to smokers as an alternative," Cuchiella said.
As for himself, now that he is vaping instead of smoking, "I feel 1,000 percent better, I am sleeping better – everything"
The jury still seems to be out on the safety or toxicity of e-cigarettes, especially as some contain nicotine. The product certainly seems successful, however, as sales jumped from 50,000 in 2008 to 3.5 million in 2012, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.
The Vape Lounge was staying busy with customers either looking for vaping supplies or curious about the whole idea.
Stephanie Shulz, of Havre de Grace, stopped by Monday and said the Bel Air location was easier than going to Dundalk or deeper into Cecil County.
"It's close, convenient," Shulz said of the store. She started using e-cigarettes Aug. 20 and has been smoking "a long time."
"I want to quit smoking," she explained.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun