I came to live in this very small town called Lampeter, in the middle of the Welsh countryside, a few years ago. I turned 60 and wanted to retire, so I came here. Before that I lived in Stourbridge, a much bigger town in the English Midlands. I’ve done all sorts of jobs: mechanic, dog-handler and I’ve worked in security. So it may seem strange that in my retirement, with no experience of working in shops, I bought a vape shop—and now work more hours than I ever did! But here’s how it happened.
My smoking habit started around 35 years ago, when I was in my mid-20s. If you went to the pub, which I did quite often, you smoked. My parents smoked too, so smoking was really part of the culture that I grew up in, just outside the city of Birmingham.
My relationship with smoking is strange. I can’t tell you exactly how it made me feel, whether good or bad. But it was a sort of companion in my day. When I used to play football, at half-time, I’d light-up a cigarette.
My GP sent me to a cessation clinic. It wasn’t for me; it felt like it was a way of shaming me as a smoker.
People say they smoke because it helps them de-stress. But for me, smoking was really about getting away from a situation—like when you’re at work and you want a few moments to yourself. Essentially, what I was craving was alone-time: a time to slow down. Looking back, I don’t think I got that much out of smoking, even though I smoked for decades!
Before I decided to quit, my GP sent me to a cessation clinic. It wasn’t for me; it felt like it was a way of shaming me as a smoker. It was like once you started this course, and you still continued to smoke, it was deeply shameful. To be honest, the more people that told me to stop smoking made me more determined to keep on smoking!
One day, I decided that I couldn’t afford to keep my cigarette habit. I was smoking 20 or 30 a day. And I wasn’t really enjoying smoking; it was just a habit that was costing me money.
So I went online to look at smoking replacements—I knew I wouldn’t just be able to stop cold. I found out about vaping and walked into the vape shop in town.
When I first started to vape, four years ago, you couldn’t get the variety of vapes you get now. I first used something called “cigalike”—they looked like a cigarette and glowed at the end. But they didn’t give the hit that I needed.
So with the help of the man who ran the vape shop in my old town of Stourbridge, I tried a few vapes. I thought, “This is good, and if I could vape, and it’s relatively safe, then that’s the way to go.”
I went home to my wife, Clare, and asked, “How do you feel about owning a vape shop?”
Initially I was vaping and smoking, and that went on for a couple of years. Eventually I was vaping more than smoking, and then the smoking stopped completely. With vaping, I haven’t lost the mechanics of smoking. I’m still holding something—I haven’t completely divorced myself from the ritual of having a cigarette. Nicotine patches would never work for me.
The biggest difference taking up vaping and quitting smoking has made to me is that I don’t smell like a smoker—you don’t realize how much your whole being smells of cigarettes! And then there’s the harm that I was doing to others. Passive smoking is a big issue. Some people look at those vaping indoors and view it as just as harmful as smoking. And of course, it’s not the same.
After I moved, I’d been coming into this vape shop here in Lampeter for a few months, when the owner told me they were selling it. I went home to my wife, Clare, and asked, “How do you feel about owning a vape shop?” To my surprise, she said yes.
Neither of us knew that much about vaping. I was just a customer, a consumer. But now, when someone comes into the shop, I’m able to quiz them to help them find the best vape to suit their needs.
We have many different vapes with different properties. When someone comes in, I ask them about their smoking habits; what kind of hit are they looking for? Are they looking to vape and still smoke, or are they completely quitting smoking?
The first thing they did after confirming they were having a baby was visit the vape shop with the hope to quit smoking.
Most people who come into the shop know a little about vaping, as they’ve come having made the decision to give vaping a try. But the other day I had a couple come in, they’d just been to the doctor who confirmed they were having a baby. The first thing they did after visiting the doctor was visit the vape shop with the hope to quit smoking. I was the first person they told their good news to!
This is a very small town, so the shop is never going to be that busy. But in the year that I’ve had it, I’ve definitely seen an increase in the numbers of people coming in. It used to be very quiet at the beginning; the shop didn’t make much money. But now I’m busier with people embracing vaping more.
I’ve learnt that people who now vape instead of smoke want the same experience as they did when they popped out to buy a packet of cigarettes. They could go online and buy vapes, but they like coming to the shop and having a chat, talking about the different oils.
I wouldn’t say buying the vape shop in my retirement has been completely altruistic. I might’ve got bored if I didn’t. But I like to think I’m providing a good service for people who have made the choice to quit smoking. In my own small way, I’m helping people live healthier lives—just as the man in my town of Stourbridge helped me four years ago.
I love it when customers come in and tell me they have stopped smoking. Many people thank me for helping them quit cigarettes. And I tell them that it’s not me—they are the ones who made the decision to stop smoking and walk into my vape shop. I don’t know anyone who has gone back to cigarettes after vaping.
The shop has given me a sense of purpose. This is a new venture in my 60s! But I can’t help but think if we normalized vaping a little bit more, like they used to with cigarettes, more people could choose the better option.
*As told to Kiran Sidhu
Photograph by Kiran Sidhu