When I first noticed that some of my peers were using vape pens as a means to quit smoking, I was mystified. As I watched people at parties inhale from pocket-sized metallic instruments and promptly exhale cumulous reams of smoke, I sat there looking at the floating clouds in wonderment. But the ubiquity of vape pens and the people who brandish them has only multiplied since then. Their smoke-filled presence has left me in a mental haze that’s been hard for me to escape. It’s prompted an introspective journey riddled with deep, meaningful questions that I thought I’d never ask myself:
“What is vaping?” “Why is it so popular?” “Do I want to vape too?” “Am I cool enough to vape?”
As I stood looking in the mirror, asking myself these questions, a feeling of existential woe began to encroach upon my swimming mind. I realized I had to take action. I had to examine the hidden world of vape culture, or at least interview a guy who works at Vape Supply Co. in Williamsburg.
It turns out, according to Remy Reyes, a sales manager at Vape Supply & Co., vaping and the nascent community it’s spawned has caught a pretty bad rap. “It’s huge on the west coast, so everybody knows what’s going on,” he tells me. “Over here it’s still fresh and we’re just trying to get people to stop smoking cigarettes, that’s the whole point.”
Vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes, sure, but according to Reyes, it’s become much more than that. The fact that he’s selling vape products inside a retail space big enough to house a fire engine is a testament to the budding vaper-lifestyle, but he says there are still haters, many of whom need an education in the pastime’s abundant merits.
“It makes me sad, it really makes me sad. We’re not trying to harm anybody, we’re just trying to not smoke cigarettes, so if we have a hobby that helps us do that, why is it so bad?”
Reyes says he gets finger-wagging glares from some people on the street, but when passerby catch a whiff of some of the sweeter flavors he puffs, their skepticism fades.
Reyes likes to say that “we’re in the prohibition phase,” in reference to the random flack he might encounter while vaping on the street, but in actuality the community hasn’t been forced into submission. In fact, it’s kind of outwardly proud and even occasionally competitive. Reyes says there are contests where the more sportive vapers ply their craft against one another, and are judged based on the “density, distance and push” of their clouds.
Remy likes to compete, and offers me an example of the rigorous technique he employs to exhale something formidable. His particular cloud is huge, but he says it would most likely “get squashed” in competition.
The aroma created by Reyes’ cloud–sweet misty and lingering in the air–begs me to ask the fateful question I’ve always wanted to. “Can I try some?,” I say with the curiosity typical of someone experimenting with pot for the first time.
Reyes loads me up a cartridge full of Fruit Loops flavored vape juice (the actual liquid ignited by the wicks inside of a vape pen), and I inhale away. The flavor is uncannily familiar to the sugary breakfast cereal, and I’m instantly reminded of watching Saturday morning cartoons in my underwear as a child.
I comment on the visceral flavor of Fruit Loops titillating my mouth, and Reyes smiles affirmatively. He says that the flavors are insanely lifelike, and mentions once having a pizza flavored vape experience that made him nauseous.
Even though I’m not a doctor, I’m convinced that anyone in dire need of a break from cigarettes might get what they need from a vape pen. In Reyes’ experience, he says that most people wind up “not liking the taste of cigarettes,” after they become accustomed to vaping.
Follow Sam Blum on Twitter @Blumnessmonster