Pix and Words by PASHMINA BINWANI
Tucked away in the capital of the Flemish Brabant province in Belgium, and 25km east of Brussels, there is a growing vape population in lively Leuven. The oldest university town and home to beautiful cafes and stunning historical sites, Leuven does not shy away from the new e-cigarette or vape lifestyle.
While the breweries are very much the heart and soul of the city, the vape life is slowly becoming the pulse. Pay a visit to a newly opened store in Leuven, Belgium called Vapor Shop Leuven and you will see that the place is packed with students, parents of students and tourists.
It was December and the New Year was around the corner. While students prepared for their new semester, some deciding to invest in new vape setups and e-liquid flavours, a parent was seen purchasing a new e-cigarette for his son.
Sandro Botta, the owner of Vapor Shop Leuven was surprised to see that there has been a huge demand and a large cultural wave in the student town of Leuven.
For The Love of Vaping
“To be honest, Belgium is a little late to the vape culture but in two years we have seen a major cultural shift. [In the past] a lot of Belgians and students from Leuven’s Universiteitsbibliotheek would need to head to Holland to get access to a vape shop. There were not a lot of options especially for the new or seasoned vapers. Hence, I decided to open the Vapor Shop in Leuven,” said Botta.
Besides vape shops, the only other option for people to purchase their e-liquids is from online stores, with some even shopping on stores that are based as far as Asia. One of these online vape stores, Vape Club International, has shipped to about 15 countries in Europe -- indicating a growing demand for vape supplies in the region.
Now that there’s a local store in the city itself, it has become more obvious that the vape culture is strong in Leuven. With 52 per cent of Botta’s customers between the ages of 18 to 34 years old, he has remarkably captured half the vaping market in Belgium.
And why not as the government has made a very important announcement in the classification of vaping products in Belgium. The adoption of the European Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) by the Royal Decree means that vaping will be legal by January 17 2017.
E-cigarettes and e-liquids containing nicotine will be considered consumer products and will no longer be sold as medical devices.
Vaping: A Male Activity?
“While vaping is mostly male dominated, with 74 per cent of my customers being male, I have noticed something interesting. Men go through a complete vaping evolution where they are heavily involved to discuss products, e-liquids and what generally works or doesn’t work. Women, on the other hand, stick to vaping as an alternative to quit smoking completely,” said Botta.
“It may slowly change of course, but vaping can be a sharp learning curve and I understand that it may not be a right cultural fit for some women,” added Botta.
The Community Aspect
As vaping becomes mainstream and with many new users vaping for the first time, Botta takes his time to advise his customers. The shop sees customers from all ends – the hardcore mods, hot metal coils to the newbie nicotine-free e-cig users.
Conversations in the Vapor Shop in Leuven can last for hours with vaping 101, vape preferences, vape experiences and the latest e-cig on demand. That’s the community aspect and intense interest in the vaping world that has brought people like Botta to dedicate their hours all day to the vape life.
“I started vaping in the Philippines at little kiosks and nondescript vape shops and it was such an amazing experience. This was five years ago and now whenever I vape, I get extremely nostalgic and it brings back a lot of good memories,” said Botta.
The Vape Trend is Here to Stay
With many people striving to adopt a healthy lifestyle in 2017, the delivery of vape products and intense expansion of more vape shops across Europe, as well as Asia shows that the vape trend is here to stay.
The passionate community and strong drive to turn over a new leaf has gotten people considering their options. It is not just about a fancy setup or gear that has swept through student capitals like Leuven, but it is a potential game changer in putting an end to tobacco combustion.
One would expect the brick and mortar Vapor Shop in Leuven to have only a handful of regular customer visits, where most of his customers would be from his online store.
However, it was just a weekday, and the place was teeming with people. Botta got pretty busy minute after minute. Curious passersby who were still unaware of the vape phenomenon did peek in to have a look about the new trend of e-cigarettes.
In just two years, a lot has changed in Belgium and this seems to be a fitting example similar to the start of every vape shop in other parts of Europe such as Scotland, France, Italy and Germany.
Health Becomes A Priority
Findings from the Respiratory Research journal in UK have even noted that there was “a marked reduction in cigarette consumption” among electronic cigarette users. The team discovered “a significant reduction in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations was reported in the COPD e-cigarette user group.”
Some chronic COPD users have even commented that vaping has drastically changed their life for the better and the symptoms have decreased. More than just an alternative, the milder approach to a smoke-free lifestyle has been a major advantage for those looking to start 2017 right.
As the owner of Vapor Shop Leuven, Botta is super excited and positive about the vape industry in the coming months. Nothing like finding trust in a lifestyle one believes in and having hope that the government will make a move to regulate the e-cig industry.
While the vape lifestyle sees the light of the day, what is it about vaping that will excite you in 2017? Tell us in the comments below.