Vaping started as a way to stop smoking. So how did it become an alternative scene with its own lingo, tricks and superstars?
harlie Rabone is explaining the conditions required for the Os, or vapour rings, he blows. “You have to think about the wind, the climate – all sorts,” says the 20-year-old from Stockport. He wears a sweatshirt and a trucker cap from Humble Juice Co, a US manufacturer whose Hop Scotch vape liquid tastes of coffee, vanilla and butterscotch. “The air has to be super-dead,” he adds. “Even the heat from radiators can ruin it.”
He raises his Asmodus Minikin 2 “mod” to his lips and inhales. The battery-powered device, which costs £90 and is the size of a pack of cards, heats a coil inside the rebuildable dripping atomiser (RDA), which screws on to the top of the mod. Rabone has dripped juice on to the cotton wick around the coil. When he breathes in, the liquid turns to vapour. After a couple of seconds, he cocks his head and exhales. Pressing his mouth into an oval, Rabone forms a vapour ring before raising his left hand and pushing it from behind. The ring grows and accelerates. “I can do a jellyfish as well,” he says. “You blow an ‘O’ and keep a bit of vape in your mouth, and then blow that out into a little cloud, which looks like a ghost. Then it goes into the ‘O’ and wraps around it to look like a jellyfish. People can do mad things.”
Rabone is part of a dedicated tribe of “cloud chasers”, who tinker with their juices and gear to produce the biggest possible vape clouds. Some cloud chasers in turn belong to a tribe of “trick vapers”, who gather, like skaters, to show off their moves. Rabone works at Elite Cigs, a Manchester chain of vape stores, having walked through the door two years ago to try his first vape. Today he is at Vape Jam, a public trade fair now in its fourth year at the Excel centre in London.
Thago and Nurmela are squonkers, who are slightly different to drippers (many advanced vapers will dabble in both). Rather than dripping juice on to a coil, squonkers squeeze a bottle incorporated into the bottom of their mods, via a squonk hole, pushing the liquid directly into the atomiser. This is cleaner and easier and has grown partly in response to the tobacco products directive (TPD). This 2016 EU law limits the size of built-in vape tanks and prohibits the sale of larger juice bottles containing nicotine (advanced vapers now add nicotine “shots” to their vape juice). A squonk bottle is not classified as a tank, so it can be bigger and requires less refilling.
“You can do more customisation as well,” explains Kai, 25, a squonker from Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. His friend Max has a scraggly beard and black earlobe discs the size of 10p coins; he is wearing a T-shirt of the punk band Alkaline Trio. As much as anything else, Max says a tinkering tendency unites vape connoisseurs. He has a whole dresser at home filled with mods, parts and liquids blended by Kai, a chemistry graduate.
Salvador Vazquez, 47, whose tattoos cover his shaved head and face, wears a Frankenskull mod in a leather pouch around his neck. He was a smoker in his teens and picked up an e-cigarette five years ago, when he needed a pipe to wear with a steampunk Sherlock Holmes costume. The Spanish cosplayer (cosplay being a popular costume-and-play subculture) found an elaborate e-pipe that made a big cloud. “Now it is my hobby,” he says. Vazquez is a model maker and a former professional painter for Warhammer, the fantasy battle game, but he says the biggest cultural overlap with vaping is tattoos.
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