It was about 37 years ago that Victoria Vasconcellos, 52, took a puff off her first cigarette, and by her late 40s she had developed a cough so bad it kept her up at night.
She said that over the years she tried nicotine patches, nicotine gum and even the cessation anti-depressant Chantix, but was unsuccessful in her effort to kick the habit. She said it wasn't until she tried her first electronic cigarette in early 2009 that she was able to slowly wean herself off of tobacco.
"I realized I had control over my addiction," she said.
Vasconcellos launched an Internet business later that same year selling e-cigarettes under the name Cignot and has since opened four brick-and-mortar stores, located in Hickory Hills, Lyle, Wauconda and the town where she lives, Elmhurst. Vasconcellos also is looking to open stores in Chicago, she said.
Her newest location will be located in Oak Park at 101 N. Marion St. and is expected to be in operation by early May.
Puffing on e-cigarettes, also known as "vaping," distributes nicotine to the body by vaporizing a combination of nicotine, water, flavoring, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine, she said. A battery component in e-cigarettes charges a heating element that turns the liquid nicotine into a mist that is free of smoke, according to the American Cancer Society.
The Cancer Society has not taken a position on whether e-cigarettes should be banned but notes on its website: "Studies have shown that e-cigarettes can cause short-term lung changes that are much like those caused by regular cigarettes. But long-term health effects are still unclear. This is an active area of research, and the safety of these products is currently unknown."
Vasconcellos argues that a number of studies show that e-cigarettes pose no health concerns for users or bystanders.
She said that none of her stores have ever sold e-cigarettes to minors and Cignot also will not carry tobacco products, pipes or other paraphernalia related to smoking.
"This (business) wasn't started for money, it was started for a mission," she said, adding that she aims to put "big tobacco" out of business.
Cignot will carry products by Joyetech, Kanger, Boge, SmokTech, Visions and Innokin, Vasconcellos said.
The new business will be located on a major commercial thoroughfare in Oak Park. The location was leased by David King of Oak Park realty firm David King & Associates.
"We visited the downtown Elmhurst location, we were there for half an hour on a Wednesday afternoon in 15 degree weather and there were 20 customers in and out of the store," King said in a telephone interview. "This store will bring additional traffic to downtown Oak Park."