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Blowing off steam: Loudoun vape culture emerges around e-cig businesses

Alex Tran, staff and vape “builder” at Rustic Vapor in Ashburn, shows off “The Tornado” trick with vapor smoke. Times-Mirror/Anna Harris
The air in Ashburn’s Rustic Vapors sits heavy with flavors from customers sampling e-liquids and blowing vapor clouds toward the ceiling.

The shop and lounge opened July 11, the latest of a slew that have made Loudoun home in the past few years as part of a growing national trend called vaping by electronic cigarette connoisseurs.

Cyd Macomber owns and runs the shop. Vapes and e-liquids, the flavorful concoctions that offer the nicotine buzz (unless the blend is nicotine free), became a passion when her husband, who used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, weaned himself of his habit through e-cigarettes.

Loudoun's vape shop and e-liquid production community is unique, she said, as one which is supportive despite the competitive market. There are at least eight shops in the county that collaborate on quality vape liquids and devices and trends in the industry.

The labs themselves, producers of the filters and juices that give vape flavor and substance, operate in Loudoun as well, and many of the county’s vape venues work to make relationships with local suppliers. Macomber gets her e-liquids from five Loudoun labs, a majority over the three out of county, more national suppliers.

Cyd Macomber owns Rustic Vapors in Ashburn. A vape fan herself since seeing her husband quit traditional smoking with e-cigarettes, Macomber prefers sweeter e-liquid flavors like Fuzzy Custard from Eureka. Times-Mirror/Anna Harris

A growing trend

In the corner at Rustic Vapor, sales associate and vape “builder” Alex Tran, 19, blows vapor clouds over the heads of his friends, hanging out at a table in the lounge, complete with television and seating.

All age 20 and under, the group shows off tricks like the dragon, blowing smoke through their nose and mouth simultaneously, or the “Push the O” move, blowing a smoke ring and nudging it away from their bodies with the palm of their hands.

Though often used as a tool to quit or limit cigarette smoking, vapes and e-cigarettes have found a cozy niche with the millennial generation.

“Basically trend-wise it's because everyone is essentially doing it and a lot of people like it and obviously it doesn't harm them,” said Edwin Nolasco, 20. “I've read certain things.”

“Yeah you're going to be healthier if you breath air,” Tran added, the group laughing. “Some people smoke and some people don't. It's both a hobby and a way to quit. Edwin and I and Blake [Crane], we'd been smoking hookah [before].”

The vape community is broad, made up of those who want a hand-to-mouth experience to relax and unwind after a long day, those seeking an alternative to cigarettes and also those who’ve turned it into a sport.

Around the country, cloud competitions pit vape users against each other, seeing who can blow the biggest vape cloud or perform the perfect French inhale (blowing the smoke through the mouth and inhaling it through the nose simultaneously, creating a fog over the upper lip).

To control or not to control?

Little regulation exists for e-cigarettes. Legally, consumers must be 18 or older (and 19 in some states) to smoke. But high school students often find ways to vape too, one of many factors sparking national debate. What legal restraints and checks should be placed on the industry?

Since April 2014, the Food and Drug Administration has worked to get regulations passed known as the “deeming rule,” allowing the group to control how tobacco-based products are made, packaged and sold.

Macomber said child safety caps placed on the liquid containers, carding patrons who look younger than 18 and creating product packaging and names that look less like candy are regulations the industry itself have put in place.

Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarettes aren't legally banned from restaurants. Macomber said her husband vapes in these venues but always asks beforehand. The restaurants in the area, like Ashburn Pub, have been fairly supportive, she said.

That doesn't mean every restaurant is on board. SmokeHouse Live in Leesburg has a sign above its bar: “No smoking or vaping.”

There's no standard for the labs that create vape liquid either, at least not any enforced by the government.

Kat Kross runs 6 Shot Vapor Co. in Sterling. Like Macomber, she started her company after e-cigarettes helped her quit traditional smoking.

She was hesitant to talk about her lab directly because of controversy over the lack of regulation and the disputed health risks of e-cigarettes.

The e-liquid industry is self-regulating, she said. While there are smaller pockets that create lower quality products from their homes, better and trusted e-liquid companies work within standards related to where the products that go into the vape liquid come from or how the production environment is cleaned.

“It's very hard to make good e-liquid,” Kross said. “Anyone can make it. Not everyone can make it well.”

Also disputed are the health “benefits” of e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration put out a report stating there was no conclusive evidence that e-cigarettes are an effective means for quitting cigarettes or that vapes themselves have any less health risks.

But for people like Macomber and Kross, the benefits for smokers are clear.

“I'm not saying it's healthy, it's just better,” said Macomber. “I vape now … It's just a better alternative.”

For those who don't smoke, like Tran, it's not about health. It's about fun and being a part of a larger trend.

“Because it is such a community,” Kross said. “It's not you just run in and get what you need and leave. It's a whole element of people who want to sit down and talk about their devices and e-liquids and whatever. That's a huge part of the vape culture.”

Tran demonstrates how the vaping mechanism works. Times-Mirror/Anna Harris

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @annatheharris.



Stupid auto-correct.

Most. Obnoxious. Trend. Ever. Last month, I had to walk through clods of vapor on the Ocean City boardwalk because idiots had to impress us all with their vamping.

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