Lots of people who vape -- that is, smoke e-cigarettes and other similar devices -- are really, really into it.
Before it became a $2 billion industry and caught the attention of the FDA, which now wants to regulate it, vaping was a subject of passionate discussion on the Internet.
“It’s kind of like a smoking cessation device turned hobby turned lifestyle,” Aaron David Ross, 29, an avid vaper and electronic musician in New York City, told NBC News.
The word “vaping” refers to the vapor that is produced when the liquid, known as the “e-liquid” or “e-juice,” hits a heating coil in an electronic cigarette. (There are hundreds of different ways to vape, but each device basically works the same way).
E-cigarettes first hit U.S. shores in 2006 from China. Today, there is an entire subculture devoted to vaping.
On E-Cigarette Forum, which boasts nearly 200,000 members, people share tips and debate everything from the best e-juice to vaporize to the politics behind the proposed FDA regulations.
The forums are also filled with people talking about how vaping changed their lives. While the long-term effects of smoking e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine and other chemicals, is unknown, some studies indicate that it's at least as effective as nicotine patches in getting people to quit tobacco cigarettes.
"My boyfriend's father died of lung cancer directly caused by cigarette smoking," Elizabeth Brigham, 25, who blogs and posts videos about vaping under the name SugarVapor, wrote in an email to NBC News. "Getting people off cigarettes and into the 'vape life' is my mission because e-cigarettes are more than just about fun, it's about saving people's lives."
On YouTube, there are more than 40,000 videos detailing “vape tricks,” where vapers channel their inner Gandalf from “Lord of the Rings” and blow out elaborate smoke creations.
A search on Instagram for the tag #vaporn yields all kinds of custom vaping devices, known as “mods,” that people have built for fun.
“It’s akin to car culture,” Ross said. “People know an insane amount of information about this one very specific thing, so when you find other people who share that knowledge, there is this great camaraderie.”
Ross, like Brigham, started vaping after he quit smoking tobacco cigarettes, a decision that came after a family friend was diagnosed with lung cancer. Now he finds himself vaping a few times an hour, he said, and put together a compilation of “music by vapers for vapers” with other musicians.
Even Pinterest has pages devoted to the joys of vaping. And, of course, Twitter and Tumblr is full of people sharing messages about the #vapelife.
Zachary Kaplan, community manager for Rhizome, a non-profit arts organization, does not vape. But he was so fascinated by the subculture that had popped up around the practice that he organized a one-day symposium in February at the New Museum in New York City called "This is the ENDD: The E-Cigarette in Context."
"Right now is a moment when people who are really into it get to define what vaping looks like and what it means," he said. "As it becomes more corporate and massive corporations start defining it with their own advertising strategies, it will change. The subculture, the one we were able to witness in February, won't exist anymore."
First published April 27 2014, 3:36 AM