NASHUA -- Tucked away in an unassuming Main Street storefront in the old Nashua Telegraph building, it's easy to find Lineage Vapors by following the sweetly scented aroma of its vaporized e-liquids.
The shop has been supplying the area with tobacco alternatives since October 2013. That was the year that Pepperell native Kyle Ezzio decided to go into business on his own to bring more people the same products that helped the longtime smoker kick his cigarette habit.
"I had no idea it was going to be something that caught on," Ezzio, 37, said between draws from his vape, sitting in the back of the Nashua store. "I thought I might be able to help a couple of people a day."
Ezzio has since built a small empire of vape shops in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
He prides his business in having fresh product and knowledgeable staff well equipped to help customers find the right devices and liquids for their needs and educate them on proper usage and upkeep.
Ezzio is the sole owner of the New Hampshire shops, and co-owns the Massachusetts stores with Joel Illouz, of Longmeadow.
Ezzio was already in the retail world selling cellphones when he decided he needed some extra work. He got a part-time job selling the first generation of electronic or e-cigarettes at malls in Peabody and Nashua.
At that point, Ezzio had smoked cigarettes for 17 years, starting when he was 14. He only started using the vape because he was given one on the job.
Ezzio said he immediately liked that it removed his urge, and he didn't need to go outside for smoke breaks. He finished the pack of cigarettes he had, and never looked back.
A few weeks later, Ezzio was feeling better than he'd felt in years. His lungs expelled the tar and phlegm that had built up, he stopped coughing and was no longer winded walking up a flight of stairs.
"I had two revelations: 'wow, I can do this,' and, 'I can help people on my own,'" he said.
In starting the first store, Ezzio said he looked to his heroes, parents Tracie and Louis Ezzio, for assistance.
He had watched his mother open and succeed with Pepperell Family Pharmacy and knew starting a business was within reach.
"My family helped me. They believed in me," Ezzio said.
As the store caught on and grew its inventory and customer base, Ezzio researched nearby markets with expansion in mind.
He opened his second store in Derry in January 2015, followed by the Lunenburg that September.
For about a year he was a part-owner of Vaporamas in Manchester, but later sold out of the partnership to focus on Lineage and the Twin City Emporium, opened in October 2016.
Expansion halted until earlier this year, when Ezzio opened new Lineage locations in Merrimack, Gardner and Keene.
Many have found their way into the world of vaping just like Ezzio did, as a means to stop smoking and improve their health.
Sean McGonagle, 29, of Nashua, who manages the Lunenburg and Gardner stores, said he began smoking at 16. About five years ago he went to Lineage, looking for an alternative so he wouldn't have to smoke around his young son.
After about two weeks of vaping, he was done with cigarettes. His senses of taste and smell returned.
"It just became a more enjoyable way of life," McGonagle said.
Ezzio's stores offer a wide variety of vape products, with flavors ranging simple fruit flavors like strawberry and blueberry to the more complex flavors like pineapple upside-down cake and bourbon custard. Nicotine levels vary from as high as 50 mg to as low as 3 mg.
The stores also sell e-liquid that doesn't contain any nicotine at all, a product that is often attractive to those who want to vape for other purposes.
Employee Kara Tibbetts said she has customers who are diabetic or have problems with snacking and vape so they can enjoy the flavors of the foods they can't eat.
Tibbetts, 22, said she makes the long drive from Johnston, Rhode Island, to work at the Nashua store because she believes in its mission and truly feels she is helping people.
As successful as the industry has become in recent years, there are still many challenges its purveyors must contend with.
E-liquids and related products are lumped in with tobacco products in the eyes of the law, and new Massachusetts regulations just raised the sale age of these products from 18 to 21, effective at the end of the year.
Ezzio said it doesn't make sense to him that 18-year-olds can serve in the military but can't buy nicotine products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently declared a teen vaping epidemic, threatening sweeping regulation changes and a crackdown on retailers.
Ezzio said he respects the goal of keeping the products out of children's hands, but believes the FDA is taking the wrong approach. He said barring online sales of vape products and instituting stiffer penalties for underage sales is a better route than the threat of banning all flavored vape products that adults enjoy and that aide them in quitting combustible smoking.
Compared to other age-restricted products, Ezzio said he sees a double standard. Alcohol, for instance, can be sold in fruity candy flavors, he said.
As far as entering the recreational marijuana industry in Massachusetts, for now Ezzio may be satisfied with just selling glassware and other items for pot use. He said he's retained an attorney to advise him and is keeping an eye on the slow-moving, bureaucratic process, but he's not convinced quite yet that he wants a part in it.
Because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, banks aren't interested in working with related businesses, making them cash-only enterprises. There would also be a need for heavy security, Ezzio said.
Plus, he's already able to sell cannabidiol or CBD oil, a hemp product that provides the health benefits of pot, including relief from pain, anxiety and depression, without the psychotropic effects.
But just because things are slow in that arena doesn't mean Ezzio is losing momentum -- or finding other industries to enter.
On Monday, he opens Convicted Ink at 419 Amherst St. in Nashua, a tattoo parlor co-owned with longtime friend Scott Towne, of West Bridgewater.
It's a much different business, but "I'm learning every single day more about it," Ezzio said.
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.