Calif. ó Brandon Lockridge and his electrician-school
classmate stopped into The Vape Bar in San Jose, Calif.,
bellied up to the shiny wooden bar and ordered the usual.
of vapor soon swirled over the menís heads, then vanished
like ghosts. A candy-store scent sweetened the room, courtesy
of the featured flavor for October: Witcherís Brew, a combo
of peaches-and-cream and butterscotch liquids, noted on a
large chalkboard menu in coffeehouse fashion.
the world of vaping ó puffing on inhalers sometimes known as
electronic cigarettes or vape pens. The devices use small
batteries to heat a flavored liquid until it produces a vapor.
The liquid may contain varying levels of a nicotine kick, from
zero (flavor only) up to 24 milligrams, but no tobacco smoke
has become so popular that itís now an official
"scene," a subculture with its own lingo: Do you
wind your coils in bunny ears or roller coasters? Is variable
voltage better, or drip style? How about an RBA (rebuildible
atomizer) you can tinker with to adjust the draw, and create
more flavor and bigger vapor clouds? Users can subscribe to
VPR, "the leading Vape lifestyle magazine," or
mingle at a "vape meet."
not just the vapor, itís about the style, being able to have
this in your hand," said Peter Edwards, 29, of San Jose,
at The Vape Bar, rolling his e-pen with his fingers like a
fine cigar. "Once you spark that button on your pen and
you get this going, whether itís nicotine or marijuana or
nothing in it but flavor, itís cool. You want to be GQ
27, credits vaping for reduced nicotine intake ó heís down
to 6-milligram juices ó but he also just enjoys the bar
atmosphere, like hanging out at a neighborhood watering hole.
like coming in here, talking to people about the pens,"
he said, explaining the workings of his device. "This is
a single coil. You wrap it, drip the juice on it. I did a lot
of research. This one is a second-generation Zmax with a
digital display, you can check the battery life. Itís fun to
tinker with it."
e-cig prototypes were introduced in the mid-2000s, but refined
devices ó many manufactured by the big tobacco companies ó
have grown in popularity worldwide in the past few years.
Vaping has been big in Southern California, and the trend
recently spread to the Bay Area, where you can find at least a
dozen dedicated vape shops in San Francisco alone, not to
mention e-cig and vaping supplies available at regular smoke
shops across the region. Many users also modify the devices to
vape marijuana or other drugs.
e-cig brands resemble real cigarettes, glowing on the tip when
you inhale. Others look like small mechanical cylinders; users
joke theyíre "Star Wars" light sabers. Some are
bejeweled with bling and come in more colors than an iPhone
past few months, e-cigarettes have been making news ó and
not necessarily in a good way. While proponents rave that theyíre
a great way to kick the tobacco habit, public health officials
and government bodies ó from Bay Area cities to state
agencies to the FDA ó are pushing for more research,
possible taxation and regulation under existing tobacco laws.
Some fear the sweet flavors such as bubble gum and blueberry
and the appealing lack of cigarette smoke will lure young
people into the nicotine habit, even though itís illegal to
sell them to minors. Most shop owners say they ask for ID.
act of inhaling anything into the lungs is a concern,
particularly if the ingredients are not known," said
oncology resource nurse Kitt Kelly at Sutter Delta Medical
Center. He added that the medical community is reluctant to
play "cultural police" and tell adults what to do.
we need to be informed, with actual research," Kelly
said. "We need more information, and not in the form of
an advertisement or product claim."
moment, there is no regulation.
itís legal to vape anywhere in California, even indoors. But
even avid vape users say you have to be smart about it.
are certain places you want to be discreet," said Alex
Westle, 25, of San Leandro, Calif., who says he smoked tobacco
cigarettes for four years but now vapes "zeros" and
works as a clerk at the It Is Vapor 5 shop in Hayward, Calif.
legal to vape indoors, but still, you have to have
respect," he said. "Itís not just you in a room.
You have to respect what other people think, and lots of
people donít even know what these are. Usually if you
explain it, people are pretty cool with it."
have to be.
Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association estimates that
about 4 million Americans now use the battery-powered
cigarettes, and they project sales of the devices to reach $1
billion by the end of this year.
as tobacco smokers are increasingly shunned and public puffing
is restricted, it seems regular cigarettes are becoming passť
ó a bygone 20th-century habit. Yet the act of smoking is
still seen as cool, and e-cigs give people the oral
gratification and nicotine that still provides an addictive
Bongbonga opened The Vape Bar on South First Street in June,
and he has had a steady stream of customers, many of whom find
him through Yelp or social media, he said. He used to be a
smoker, but vaping helped him quit, and he wants to provide
this assistance for others.
father lost his life to lung cancer, and I decided it was time
for me to quit," he said. "I tried patches, gum,
counseling. Nothing worked, and then a friend approached me
with this," he added, picking up a vape pen and taking a
sweet puff of his special "Guavalicious" vapor
blend. "A week later, I was off cigarettes."
kits usually run from $30 to $100. But pens can cost as much
almost a collectibles thing now," Bongbonga said.
clientele is 60 to 70 percent male in the 18-to-30 age range,
with "a lot of minorities," and for some reason a
lot of nurses and firefighters, he added.
vapes "for dating reasons, too," he said. "A
lot of women donít want to date a smoker, donít want to
kiss an ashtray."