Editor-in-Chief Cameron Cowan reveals his obsession with vaping.

I have been into vaping since it first hit the market several years ago. I was a long time cigarette smoker starting in high school. I had tried to quit and had done so about 3 or 4 times. On my last attempt when I decided that “I was really going to do it this time!” I discovered vaping. The $1 billion “mod” market (thats the thing that vaporizes the liquid) was just beginning. Options were few and while the number of e-liquids (juices) were expanding, the equipment wasn’t expanding as fast.

That, of course, has since changed in the 6 years since vaping has become a big trend. In those years, small vaping shops specializing in offering a variety of “mods” and juices. These shops have popped up in shopping centers around the country.

The Art of Vaping

Vape products have a unique art style that is reminiscent of the bold lines and bright colors of Lowbrow Art. This art style became popular in 1960s automotive culture and adorned cars, t-shirts, and tattoos. The bold art style works well in the vaping world for the counter-culture element and the product itself. The small space demands an obvious style. Delicate lines and fine detail just don’t show up especially looking at the juices from a shelf behind the counter, as is often the case. The artwork is unique and often created by independent illustrators. This subculture element is a big part of vaping. It is something different and often garners ridicule from those who frown on any type of smoking or just frown on the large clouds of vapor that can come from certain mods. There’s a certain secret element to it. It’s a big business but the artwork is far from mainstream.

The Vape Shop

The shops themselves tend to not be glossy Apple Store modern boxes with glass. They usually resemble smoking lounges or head shops. The interiors are darker, the shelves are usually of a dark wood, and floors as well. The staff of a vape shop are usually young (the job doesn’t pay very well). However, that does not stop these shops from doing a consistently solid business catering to those looking to get out of the combustible cigarette market and into the far more flavorful e-cigarette market.

The shops also have a community element. If vaping indoors is allowed by the city, people will often stop to vape for a while and talk. There is a certain smoking lounge flare to the place. Local vape shops will often cater to this. Other vape shops also cater to other smoking accessories including hookahs, water pipes, and tobacco products. This is especially true for states where cannabis is legal. There is often crossover between those who vape and those who smoke cannabis or CBD.

Vaping Controversy

The smoking alternative has not gone without controversy either. One of the innovations within the vaping/e-cigarette trend has been smaller devices that are often about the same size as a traditional combustible cigarette. Some of them even look like a regular cigarette. The small size and perceived lack of health effects has made “JUUL-ing” a popular thing among young people. The size makes it discreet, a bonus for those young people.

Cities and states around the country have restricted where and how the products have been sold or have required ID to sell them. This is especially for the far smaller and compact JUUL cartridge-based vape products. In a recent advertising survey the company was accused of marketing to children. Marketing tobacco products to children has been banned since the 1970s and marketing tobacco products has been regulated for about the same period of time.

In early September, Michigan was the first state to ban flavored e-juice because of its appeal to young people. San Francisco banned the devices all together within the city limits. While many lawmakers believe that the flavorings are chosen to market them better to children, that cannot be farther from the truth. Nicotine, which is derived from the tobacco plant, is flavorless. Cigarettes themselves featured additives to create a flavor. Nicotine in the liquid form needs help to have a taste, and fruit flavors are easy to blend, easy to buy in quantity, and allow e-juice companies to create unique blends. Tobacco blends tend not to sell as well — people just like their guava or passion fruit (which I am vaping as I write this).

The reality is that if young people want to smoke, they are going to. Many health advocates were proud of the fact that the rates of smoking among young people were in the single digits until e-cigarettes came along. Smoking overall among Americans is increasingly rare although it remains more popular worldwide, especially in developing countries. Vaping companies are not out to get kids hooked but the appeal of the flavor and the smoke and the fact that it isn’t traditional cigarettes does have some appeal. Let’s face it, being a teenager is stressful. As George Carlin put it, “It isn’t a wonder kids smoke, it helps!”

Vaping is a new reality that government is going to have to learn how to deal with. 2 years ago, the entire industry was shocked when the FDA nearly required all flavors and flavor variations to be tested and approved by the FDA. That regulation would have put most of the industry out of business. Both sides settled on packaging warnings similar to what appears on combustible cigarettes. Vaping is here to stay and as more people look for a smoking alternative or are simply looking for a way to get away from regular cigarettes, the devices will continue to grow in popularity. If there are long-term health effects, only time will tell as studies are conducted.

The art and institution of the vape shop certainly paint a wonderful artistic picture of gritty and underground subculture.