By Tom Spencer, Staff Writer
No longer a mere crutch for cigarette quitters or a toy for tech enthusiasts, the use of e-cigarettes and nicotine vaporizers, often called “vapes,” has become widespread in New Hampshire over the last two years.
In 2013, Elite Vapor NH at 7 Jenkins Court was the first vape shop in the state. Today, it is not uncommon to see University of New Hampshire students walking the campus while inhaling clouds of vapor from a metal tube.
Vaping has become popular in New Hampshire beyond the UNH campus. In addition to its location on Jenkins Court, Elite Vapor now owns shops in Hooksett and Portsmouth.
The shop’s first customers were often former smokers. Zach Gagnon, a freshman mechanical engineering major and a regular customer at Elite Vapor, used to smoke cigarettes and chew tobacco.
Gagnon began vaping as a replacement habit, but has discovered two things: he feels no “need” to vape and he has come to like the hobby for its own unique appeal, not as a substitute.
“I’m not reliant on it,” Gagnon said. “The fun part is doing clouds and rings, and all the different flavors.”
There is a far wider array of flavors than traditional tobaccos. Gagnon and Erik Bauman, a freshman biomedical science major, like the cereal flavors. And they are not alone.
According to Aaron Scott, a sales associate for Elite Vapor, “Cereal Killa,” a milky fruity flavor, is the most highly sought after vaporizer juice on their shelf.
Beyond the flavors, the practice thrives on a growing community of enthusiasts who meet up in person and online.
“It reminds me of surfing,” Scott said. “There’s a community around of it of people trying each other’s mods and making suggestions online.”
Scott often mentions the improved health of his own lungs when compared to his days as a smoker, but that idea does not sell everyone. In fact, the shop focuses so heavily on the variety of flavors rather than the nicotine that all of the samples have zero nicotine in order to let people experience the taste without the buzz.
Joshua Blake, a part-time UNH student, has many friends who vape, but he avoids it himself.
“I’m really careful about putting chemicals in my body,” Blake said. “Besides that, I was never a cigarette smoker and I feel like if you used to do that you vape … I know it’s just water vapor, but still.”
But not everyone who now vapes used to smoke.
Bauman got his first vaporizer in October 2014, without ever having been a cigarette smoker. Since then he has upgraded to more expensive models and developed tastes for specific flavored juices.
“It’s a fun community,” Bauman said. “The shop isn’t trying to shove product in your face. If you want to try something without buying it, they’re fine with that.”
Vapers will also participate in cloud competitions in which participants stand back to back and try to blow the biggest cloud of vapor they can.
So far, Elite Vapor in Durham has hosted one such competition.
The first electronic cigarette was patented in China in 2003, according to a 2009 article in the Los Angeles Times.
To many people, e-cigarettes, which operate on the same principle as more elaborate vaporizers, became noticeable when Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Louis-Dreyfus were seen puffing away on them indoors at the Golden Globes, according to a Daily Mail article from 2014.
This year, the Electronic Cigarette Convention, which bills itself as the “vaping convention that started it all,” plans to return to Southern California in the summer of 2015, as well as plans to “hit the East Coast” with an event in Niagara Falls, New York. These conventions are attended by people beyond the college demographic, as is the shop on Jenkins Court.
“We get a solid mix a lot of people all over,” Scott said. “I could not say the majority of people who come in are students.”