He built a vape company because he wanted to help smokers quit. Health experts think that’s a really bad idea 

Chasing clouds

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click to enlarge Matt Kleizo holds one of his mods - at his store, Fast Eddie’s - PHOTO BY JEN CRAY
  • Photo by Jen Cray
  • Matt Kleizo holds one of his mods at his store, Fast Eddie’s

"But I tried it, and I never picked up another cigarette again," Kleizo says. For him, the act of inhaling vapor with nicotine was close enough to smoking to make him abandon cigarettes, and he felt it was better for his health and image. Vaping, he learned, included a culture of former smokers who like to hang out, sans smokes – much like former alcoholics who gather at coffee shops.

Kleizo decided to invest in 2013. He'd worked as a national sales manager at Staples, and he used that experience to launch Fast Eddie's.

His timing was perfect. E-cigs were exploded in popularity in 2014, both among adults and teenagers. That year's National Youth Tobacco Survey said e-cig use among high-schoolers nearly tripled, from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014, rising from approximately 660,000 to 2 million students. E-cigarettes became the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, surpassing conventional cigarettes.

Kleizo believes there's a lot of negative propaganda in the U.S. regarding vaping. He knows the tobacco giants also own e-cig companies now, but he believes money from tobacco excise taxes and settlement funds means that even some state governments are reluctant to say goodbye to cigarettes completely.

A few states and cities are levying special taxes against e-cigarettes. According to the nonprofit Tax Foundation, as of January 2018, eight states and the District of Columbia levy a statewide excise tax on vape products, and three states are home to localities that have started to apply excise taxes to the products. The Foundation says Minnesota has the highest tax rate at 95 percent, followed by California at 65.08 percent. Chicago levies the highest per unit tax, 80 cents, plus 55 cents per milliliter of vape juice sold.

Fast Eddie's has allowed Kleizo to provide for his sons Brandon, 13, JR, 8, and Eddie. Eddie is fast on his feet, thus the name of the business.

The business has also given them a smoke-free home and father.

"I started this when Eddie was a baby just learning to walk," Kleizo says. "I did this for him."

But the nascent empire he's built could soon find itself under regulators' microscope.

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