For centuries, the South was a cradle of tobacco production. Now, the region is evolving. NOLA Vape is a local e-liquid manufacturer and vendor that has grown quickly since opening in 2012. It produces more than 100 flavors of e-juice from its headquarters in New Orleans, and distributes to retail outlets around the city, including Up in Smoke, Mushroom Records, and Crescent City Vape.
NOLA Vape was founded in 2012 by New Orleans native Courtney Ambrosia with the help of her brother and a few friends — all cigarette smokers who had turned to vaping as an alternative to tobacco. The team saw a unique opportunity for business growth at a time when, as Courtney said, "the vast majority of smokers didn't even know this newfangled electronic cigarette contraption existed."
Even as the e-cigarette industry was growing nationally, few e-cig businesses existed in New Orleans, and none were embracing NOLA-centric flavor profiles for e-liquids.
NOLA Vape has been influenced by the local vibe that Courtney and her team have always loved: the food, the drink, the attitude, and the rich spice of life that makes the city one of the world's most treasured. Over a dozen of NOLA Vape's more than 100 flavors are locally inspired, including Café au Lait, Beignet, Bananas Foster, King Cake, Ponchatoula Strawberry, and even Sazerac.
The process of creating recipes for such an extensive line involved many years of experimentation and feedback from friends and customers.
Personal health was a strong inspiration for Courtney and the NOLA Vape team. "In this city, a cocktail and a cigarette go hand-in-hand…Vaping was our way of collectively agreeing to quit the cancer sticks in favor of something more evolved." What's more, said Courtney, they could help bring a superior alternative to cigarettes into their lifelong community.
Over the past few years, the e-cigarette industry has emerged from its Wild West phase, and many vaping customers are quite particular about their e-liquid. They want to know what's in their e-juice, the quality of the ingredients, and how it's made. NOLA Vape shares these concerns and puts particular care into the manufacturing process. NOLA Vape extracts its own organic nicotine, and uses only FDA-approved, U.S. Pharmacopeia-grade ingredients in a meticulously clean workplace.
In an industry where much of the hardware and nicotine extract being sold are imported — largely from China — the NOLA Vape crew is proud of offering exclusively U.S.-made e-juice.
The e-cigarette business is booming, and NOLA Vape has exceeded the team's expectations for success. But in this new and currently unregulated industry, the journey hasn't been without roadblocks. One of the first challenges the business had to overcome was signing up with a payment processor for its online store. "Most payment processors, like PayPal, won't touch this industry with a 10-foot pole because it has such a high-risk stigma," said Courtney. As a young industry with new products and new companies emerging all the time, credit card chargebacks are more common in vaping than in many other industries.
The company also has had to deal with some local legal issues. "As in any business, there are people who try to bully others under the guise of protecting their intellectual property. We've gotten flack from people who assert their legal ownership of the combination of a color and a fruit as a name." Courtney said they were flabbergasted by this, but found creative ways to keep the juice in their lineup and to sustain their local vision.
Then, of course, there are the proposed FDA regulations, which threaten to harm or shut down a huge number of e-cigarette businesses. Members of the NOLA Vape team hope for the best, but are planning for the worst.
Ultimately they remain optimistic and embrace the fresh, exciting side of vaping, an industry where everyone has to innovate and try new things to make a name. And while local competition has intensified over the past year, Courtney believes New Orleans e-cig companies "are all a team in the sense that we all share this common interest."
The e-cigarette industry has allowed the creators of NOLA Vape to earn a living from what began as a hobby and has now become something they believe is making a positive impact on their community. "We get to share our love of New Orleans' unique culture with the world. We are full of gratitude for this chapter in our lives."
Brendan Frost is an MFA student in fiction at the University of New Orleans, and a freelance journalist and copywriter. Brendan has been vaping for more than six months, using e-cigarettes to successfully quit tobacco. He’s also a blogger for Crescent City Vape, covering electronic cigarette news, trends, and research for the shop's blog.