Around this time of nearly every spring season, Southern California goes through a very odd weather pattern for an area typically known for its warm sunny days. Commonly referred to by locals as June Gloom, this anomaly occurs when warm air out of the Mojave Desert is blown out to still-cold Pacific Ocean waters, creating a thick marine layer that forms overnight and extends well into the morning hours. In extreme cases, the low clouds can be accompanied by a dense fog.
So Cal, and more specifically Orange County, has been hit by another phenomenon in recent months. As an OC resident, it seems as though the rising popularity of electronic cigarettes is especially strong in the area, where the market has absolutely exploded. There are currently over 30 brick & mortar shops in the county alone and a ever-growing number of “vapers” that will soon outnumber smokers. Nearly everywhere smoking is permitted here, you'll find vapers puffing their own clouds of water vapor into the late spring, early summer air.
For a state typically known for healthy living, it doesn't really come as much of a surprise that many of its residents have picked up the popular smoking alternative, widely thought to be safer than the real thing. Although according to the CDC, California had the second lowest smoking prevalence in the nation behind only Utah with 12.8% of the adult population in 2009. Orange County also had the third lowest rate in the state in 2008 (view map). So with one of the lowest smoking rates in a state ranked next to last in percentage of smokers, what happened over the course of the last year or so that led to the e-cig boom in Orange County?
The FDA does not allow electronic cigarettes to be marketed as smoking cessation devices. Pharmaceutical smoking cessation products are designed to help smokers quit the habit by preventing cravings. The main problem with their effectiveness is that the majority of smokers are addicted to far more than just the nicotine. The taste, smell, exhalation of smoke and hand to mouth motions are all part of the ritual of smoking as well. And while a patch or a couple pieces of gum may minimize nicotine withdrawal symptoms, they leave smokers defenseless against other triggers. Electronic cigarettes address nearly every smoking ritual, only leaving out the flame and the nasty smell.
However, E-cigs aren't currently regulated by the government, meaning vapers can puff plumes of what is essentially fog just about anywhere they please. Businesses, however, can still have the final say over whether or not vaping is allowed in their establishments. In places where e-cigarettes aren't permitted indoors, you will often find more vapers than smokers in designated smoking areas. Yet while long term affects on the user are still unknown, a 2012 study on air quality found there to be no nicotine or detectable toxins in second hand e-cig vapor.
When looking subjectively at demographics, it is apparent that a good majority of e-cig users in the county are in the 18-35 range. Young people are trend setters and California is a trendy state. In 2011, E-Cig City, OC's first known vape store, opened its doors in Laguna Beach. The movement spread north in 2012 with the opening of shops like Vapor Labs in Garden Grove, Vaper Venue in Buena Park, and The Vapor Loft in Orange. In 2013, the number of vendors has already more than doubled as more and more smokers discover the benefits of e-cigs. And as the county becomes more saturated with e-cig vendors, some locals are even starting up shop elsewhere. A Taste of Vapor in Temecula was recently opened by two Orange County residents.
As far as marketing goes, a simple Yelp profile and Facebook page is all most vapor shops need to do to attract customers. Many of their storefronts are hidden or hard to find yet through word of mouth advertising they have no problem bringing in customers. That's just how strong the OC vaping community has become. And with new and better products released almost weekly, the movement is quickly moving beyond simply an alternative to smoking.
Evolution of Electronic Cigarettes
When Hon Lik patented the first e-cig back in 2007, the design was simple and resembled that of a traditional cigarette. In just 6 years, however, it has evolved into futuristic “mods” that look more like ballpoint pens, flashlights or even light sabers. Many former heavy smokers have turned into vaping enthusiasts, owning several devices and frequenting online forums.
Some argue the original “mini” e-cigs now sold in convenience stores aren't powerful enough. However many of them have been improved to more closely mimic the act of smoking. The majority of e-cig users here start out with an Ego, or pen style battery vaporizer in an effort to get off traditional smokes. The liquid used in electronic cigarettes contains various strengths of nicotine along with propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and GRAS flavorings. Users generally start out with a high nicotine solution around 2.4% and gradually decrease their intake by purchasing liquids with lower and lower concentrations of the drug before ultimately quitting consumption altogether.
Enthusiasts, while still generally reducing their nicotine intake, tend to keep buying bigger and more powerful advanced personal vaporizers, referred to in the community as mods or APVs. Some of these can produce thick clouds of vapor, especially when higher concentrations of vegetable glycerin are used in the liquid. For enthusiasts, nicotine addiction has long gone out the window. Instead, vaping is treated as more of a unique hobby than a fix. Some strive to obtain and “rebuild” devices to produce the thickest clouds of vapor while the more artistic DIYers will hunt down rare and expensive devices and/or modify their own to make it more visually pleasing.
Orange County Raising the Bar
It's these rare and hard to find mods that have set Orange County apart in the early days of the electronic cigarette boom. Many are created in Europe and the Philippines and can generally only be purchased in limited quantities on manufacturers' websites and are often out of stock. However several OC vendors have begun ordering batches to be sold locally. It's not uncommon to find jealous out-of-state vapers on popular e-cigarette forums and social media platforms. Just as fast as the market for e-cigs is growing in the county, a new vaper can become an enthusiast in months, if not weeks!
View SoCal Vape Shop Retail Directory in a larger map
So fret not, lovely citizens of Orange County or any community where e-cigs have become all the rage. Vapers are not doing what you may think they're doing and smoking that whacky tobacco from a huge pipe. They aren't headed to some orgy with what appear to be modified sex toys. And they certainly aren't a gloomy crowd trying to offend anyone by blowing smoke in their face. We are just an ever growing community of former smokers trying to improve our health while having a little fun with some harmless clouds.
We want to hear from you! What's the vaping scene like in your area? If you are from southern California, why do you think vaping has taken off so well here? Sound off in the comments below!
Related Images and Videos
VPLive Vape Team on Location – The Vapor Loft Grand Opening 2012
CJ (Vaping Monkey) shot this video of The Vapor Loft grand opening (November 2012) in Orange, CA.
The Vapor Loft in Orange, California
For more images, visit the Southern California Vape Shops board on Pinterest.