TUCSON, Ariz. — Old Pueblo Vapor Lounge is the latest local business to offer an electronic alternative to conventional cigarettes.

Customers can shop for electronic cigarettes in a lounge setting, complete with couches and an "e-juice bar."

"This is something I really believe in," owner Keith Reinhart said. "It helps people to quit smoking" tobacco.

Free of tar, the e-cigarettes come in various flavors, including fruits, chocolate and tobacco flavors.

The e-cigarette is composed of vegetable glycerin and a rechargeable battery. The battery powers the heating element that vaporizes the liquid, or "e-juice," and is the substance that a person takes in when "vaping."

"You're getting the same effects as smoking but without all the effects that people hate," Reinhart said.

The e-liquid is made, bottled and labeled by Old Pueblo Vapor Lounge. The electronic cigarettes he sells are manufactured by Joyetech. Reinhart said average startup costs range between $40 and $100.

Most people who come into the shop are looking to quit smoking cigarettes, he said.

As e-cigarettes have grown in popularity over the last five years, local entrepreneurs have seen a business opportunity.

Green Nicotine, which started as a small Tucson company in the Foothills Mall, has grown to have stores nationwide, often through mall kiosks. The company also has a online store.

Freedom Smoke USA, another Tucson business, is also looking to expand to other states.

The company has two Tucson locations, along with an online store. One location is at 4570 E. Broadway. The second, currently on Ina Road, is in the process of moving to 3805 W. River Road.

Corporate assistant manager Cory Estep said customers can try up to five flavors each time they come in to either location.

There's even a crispy bacon flavor, Estep said.

While e-cigarettes are safer than smoking tobacco, they still can be hazardous if they contain nicotine.

Many sellers of electronic cigarettes can control the levels of nicotine, so that people looking to quit can reduce the nicotine levels in their e-cigarettes over time.

While nicotine is not considered a carcinogen or cancer-causing substance, it is still a toxin and can have health effects. Nicotine is similar to caffeine as a stimulant, but it is more addictive than caffeine.

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Stephen Michael, director of the Arizona Smokers Helpline, in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, said he doesn't recommend e-cigarettes. Some e-cigarettes tested by the Food and Drug Administration contained carcinogens, he said.

Old Pueblo Vapor Lounge's Reinhart cites his own experience, though. He's a runner who used to smoke several packs of cigarettes a day, and says he no longer feels "like his chest will collapse" when he's pounding the pavement.

"E-cigarettes help you quit smoking cigarettes, not quit smoking all together," he said.

Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com