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There’s no denying it: Vaping is cultural phenomenon which has skyrocketed into unprecedented scope and influence. And, if you’re like me, you had pretty much no fucking idea what it even was until fairly recently.
For quite some time I didn’t identify the sweet smelling vapor fog which began to overtake my city with the practice. In fact, I thought that all the people surrounded by clouds, holding weird looking devices on street corners, were covertly smoking weed.
Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
Here’s a quick rundown. Vaping is when you inhale a water-based “e-juice” through an e-cigarette or personalized vaporizer. The e-juice is comprised of vegetable glycerine, propylene glycol, water, food-grade flavorings, and varying amounts of nicotine. The liquid is heated through the device until it reaches a boiling point so that it can be inhaled.
Most of the e-juice flavors mimic sweets, or desserts; they’re meant to be enjoyable experiences for the user. There are also traditional tobacco flavors available for those who are newly transitioning from cigarettes and attempting to curb cravings.
What is perhaps more interesting than the mechanics of the act itself is the camaraderie surrounding the practice. There are shops, lounges, cafes, and all inclusive “vaporiums” dedicated to all things vape-related.
There are even “cloud competitions,” wherein which participants are invited to show their skills and tricks for prizes and sponsorships. Subcategories in the contest include things like biggest, densest cloud, and most impressive tricks (smoke rings, etc.).
From the outside, it seemed to be a strange and pointless hobby, and furthermore, another boy’s club type of activity where men gather together in large groups and create exclusionary, insular communities.
As an outsider, vape culture isn’t something I could really wrap my mind around. Luckily, Andy Morell, a BTRtoday staffer and vaping enthusiast, did me the favor of sitting down for a freewheeling discussion about the ins-and-outs of this new American pastime.
Morell picked up the hobby about two years ago as an alternative to smoking. He found it to be the most effective way to transition away from cigarettes.
“I tried every method of quitting—patches, lozenges, gum. They never worked. Because I was around it, people were smoking, and I wanted to smoke.” Morel continues, “I tried real vaping, because it felt more like a cigarette, and it gave me my fix of nicotine.”
When choosing an e-juice, one can specify your preferred level of nicotine, which means you can incrementally reduce the amount of nicotine you’re ingesting. Eventually, ideally, weaning yourself off completely.
Outside of the health benefits of switching to vaping, Morel also appreciates the culture aspect of it all.
“It’s a hobby and a lifestyle in a way,” he says. Morel explains that he’s made friends by hanging out in vape lounges, talking shop with strangers who have a shared interest. “It’s your typical conversations of vaping and devices, and this and that. It gets nerdy, like anything else that has a device.”
Vaporizers are rebuildable and customizable; this is an aspect of the craze that Morell enjoys. Users can delve into the specifics of their own vaping experience: they can be incredibly technical about personalizing their tools, and therefore controlling the intended outcome of their own e-juice consumption.
Outside of the tinkering with mechanics that Morell enjoys, he also finds it to be an all around positive force, standing in contrast to his past addiction to cigarettes.
He says, “It tastes better, it smells better, and it doesn’t impact your lungs. Cigarettes contain over 9,000 chemicals, and the vaping I do is not your basic e-cigarette.” He raves, enthusiastically, “They’re more gourmet, and they use organic components.”
If I’m being honest, vaping isn’t something I wanted to appreciate. From the outside, it seemed to be a strange and pointless hobby, and furthermore, another boy’s club type of activity where men gather together in large groups and create exclusionary, insular communities.
Vape lounges reminded me of a modern iteration of old-timey Gentleman’s-Only Smoking Clubs: where a bunch of old men put on smoking jackets and sat in leather armchairs, puffing cigars and enjoying themselves while expressly denying entry to women.
When I pressed him on the inclusivity of vaping, Morell lamented that my hunch was essentially true: this was not necessarily the most gender diverse of crowds. He says, “It is primarily a more male-dominated activity. There are girls that do it, you just don’t see that many.”
Despite this, Morell still considers vaping to be an important and beneficial recreation. Furthermore, he thinks it is the all-around best way to quit smoking, pontificating that he’d like to see it replace the tobacco industry altogether–though he recognized that that’s a long-shot.
“I think cigarettes are horrible, and they’re really disgusting. I don’t miss smelling like cigarettes, I don’t miss feeling like shit from cigarettes.” He declares, “I think vaping is definitely a way better alternative. You don’t smell, it tastes good, and you’re really not doing that much impact on your lungs.”
I wanted to hate on this trend, but the truth is that I can actually see what people get out of it. Not only does it present an alternative to more harmful forms of smoking, it also provides a built in community for people to take part in. Vaping will probably never be my “thing,” but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be somebody else’s.
Vape on, bros! Vape on.