By Kristen Russo
Mahoning County native Brian Gage was a longtime smoker when he discovered electronic cigarettes. Shortly after, he began opting for the electronic alternative to his two-pack-a-day smoking habit.
Last year, Gage launched his own e-cigarette company, Firebrand Electronic Cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated nicotine vaporizers that are shaped like cigarettes. They emit vapor rather than smoke, and they don’t contain tar.
“There is nicotine in it, and nicotine is not healthy,” Gage said. “But what you’re not getting is the 56 other chemicals found in regular cigarettes.”
Gage said he’s had some marketing help from his friends in Los Angeles who tried the products and spread the hype by word of mouth.
A graduate of Canfield High School and Ohio State University, Gage said he moved to California in August 1998, settling first in San Francisco and moving to Los Angeles about 21/2 years later.
The 37-year-old has also written four books. One of which, the young-adult fiction “The Saddest Little Robot,” was a Book Sense 76 Pick for the winter of 2003 and 2004.
In February 2010, Gage launched his e-cigarette company and its website under the name Brand Diablo.
He said he changed the name to Firebrand last fall when he was unable to trademark Brand Diablo because a cigar company had a similar trademark.
“I’m behind this product 100 percent, and I’m working very hard to attach a face with the name,” Gage said. “I thought a lot about what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a maverick.”
Gage said a search for the word maverick on Thesaurus.com brought up the term firebrand, and the name stuck.
“I actually think it’s a much stronger name,” he said.
E-cigarettes are a growing trend. There are a number of companies selling them, and Internet searches bring up numerous websites devoted to rating and discussing the different brands.
Last year, e-cigarettes made their film debut in “The Tourist,” starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.
In September 2010, Katherine Heigl of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Knocked Up” demonstrated the use of e-cigarettes on CBS’ “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
With the growth also comes controversy.
On July 22, 2009, the Food and Drug Administration issued a report stating that nitrosamines, a carcinogen, and diethylene glycol, a toxin found in antifreeze, were found in tests of two leading e-cigarette brands.
The brands were not disclosed in the study, and a call to the FDA was not returned.
Dr. Michael Siegel, professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, and Dr. Joel Nitzkin of the American Association of Public Health Physician’s Tobacco Control Task Force, agreed with the findings, but challenged the way the FDA presented its report.
“There is no carcinogen in these products that are at levels that would warrant concern,” Dr. Siegel said. “I think they misrepresented the data by not putting it in the proper perspective.”
Dr. Siegel said the report found trace levels of nitrosamines in e-cigarettes that are more than 1,000 times lower than levels found in traditional cigarettes.
“Of course they found trace levels. ... You can’t possibly have a product derived from nicotine without these residues,” he added.
The FDA also considers e-cigarettes to be unlicensed smoking-cessation drugs, but Dr. Nitzkin said they are intended as tobacco products, not cessation aides.
“E-cigarettes give the smoker who’s unable or unwilling to quit a way to get the nicotine they crave without the other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes,” Dr. Nitzkin said.
In September 2009, the FDA sent warning letters to five electronic cigarette companies for making unsubstantiated claims about their products.
E-cigarettes are not FDA-approved for smoking cessation and have no proven health benefits.
Gage said Firebrand e-cigarettes were not tested in the FDA study.
Firebrand makes no health or cessation claims, and Gage warns against companies that do.
The e-cigarette company markets its brand as an affordable and convenient alternative to traditional cigarettes.
Because e-cigarettes are smokeless, they can be used indoors in places where traditional cigarettes often cannot.
Firebrand’s top seller is the Phoenix Millennium. The $69 kit comes with a battery that charges 200 times and five cartridges that are each equivalent to a pack of traditional cigarettes, Gage said.
Gage said customers can choose to buy additional cartridges and bottles of refill liquid.
A 10-milliliter bottle, which sells for about $12, is the equivalent of 10 packs of traditional cigarettes.
The company recently launched the Firebolt, a pack of e-cigarettes which sells for less than $20 and is the equivalent of three packs of traditional cigarettes.
Midweek, Firebrand will launch its luxury line, Diablo Falcon.
The $89 kit has a battery he claims will last three times as long as any other product on the market.
“We’re working very hard to get into gas stations and retail stores to face tobacco companies head to head,” Gage said.