Customers can choose from 50 different concoctions, using up to three different flavours to make their own bespoke e-liquid, and deciding on variables such as nicotine content.
The Avant Garde Bespoke Vaping Bar is the first UK bar concept to cater exclusively to the UK’s 2.1m “vapers”, who use electronic cigarettes or atomisers as an alternative to combustible cigarettes.
The hi-tech start-up, which buys its raw ingredients solely from UK pharmaceutical companies, creates formulations in a “clean room” beneath the bar.
Co-founder Sadia Tanvir-Navaab, who launched the bar with sister Almas in November last year, says that consumers have been won over by the bespoke mixing concept – or “vapetails”.
Core flavours range from natural fruit varieties such as strawberry, to more unusual varieties, including Lemon Meringue Pie.
“People can mix the flavours they like, as well as the nicotine, PG and VG content, and name their creations,” she explains. “We’re busy from the moment we open at 11am to 7pm when we close.”
Propylene glycol (PG) is the chemical that gives the “throat hit”, which hardened smokers tend to miss when they give up cigarettes, explains Tanvir-Navaab, while vegetable glycerin (VG) creates the vapour – the clouds of white smoke that are breathed out while vaping.
Two attendees compete in the biggest vape cloud competition at the Vape Summit 3 in Las Vegas, May, 2015
Many customers choose to opt for concoctions that are PG-and-nicotine-free, but feature a higher VG content to create bigger puffs of smoke.
“Cloud chasing” tournaments where vapers attempt to create the biggest possible cloud of smoke, is a popular pastime in the US, where vaping bars are already mainstream.
Avant Garde has created a “Superhero” range of e-liquids that are all nicotine-free, with zero PG, with high levels of VG to appeal to the cloud-chasing crowd.
Its newest addition to the range, Heart of Heaven, features 14 different flavours.
Vapers get a different flavour every time they inhale, according to Tanvir-Navaab, and the new product is being launched at Vape Jam, the UK’s first vaping exhibition, in London Olympia this weekend.
There is also a growing number of consumers using vaping as a weightloss tool, Tanvir-Navaab reveals. “Our most popular flavour is Heavenly Vanilla Custard, and when you finish vaping you actually feel like you’ve had something sweet,” she says. “We sell a Chocolate Glazed Donut flavour that people say makes them feel like they’ve had a donut.”
Tanvir-Navaab says that the vaping bar concept is creating a social enviornment for people seeking alcohol-free entertainement: “It’s a very social thing to do – and you remember everything the next day.”
Avant Garde has applied for Halal accreditation to appeal to Muslims seeking an alternative night out, and all its e-liquids are already vegan and kosher.
Vaping is becoming big business in the UK. The e-cigarette market is now worth more than £200m, according to Mintel, as more smokers seek alternatives to regular cigarettes.
Vaping has also stolen market share from the smoking cessation market, comprised of brands including Nicorette, which declined 4pc in 2014. Mintel predicts the market fell to £130m, down from £136m in 2013.
‘Vape’ was The Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2014, after useage of the word doubled in a single year. You are now thirty times more likely to come across the word vape than you were two years ago.
However, new regulations governing the manufacture of e-liquids could prove a challenge to companies such as Avant Garde. Europe’s TPD (Tobacco Products Directive), which comes into force in 2016, calls for additional data on absorption, toxicity, among other concerns, and will mandate that e-liquids are sold in 10ml bottles.
“This regulation will drive up prices for the consumer, which is ridiculous when we’re trying to get people off cigarettes,” says Tanvir-Navaab.
“Many e-cigarette companies will be driven out of business but we are already voluntarily compliant with the 21 existing regulations so the cost of adding another won’t be too punitive.”
The health implications of e-cigarettes continues to divide healthcare experts. Some insist they are a safer option to smoking and have helped many people give up, others claim they are a public health menace that could lead to smoking.
The World Health Organization has said that vaping could lead to the “renormalisation” of smoking and warns that the long term health effects are still unknown.