Writing Characters Who 'Vape'
by Ron Gavalik on June 30th, 2014

As fiction and nonfiction writers, it's vital that we keep up with pop-culture trends. Most of us know how necessary it is to understand who we are as a contemporary society in order to construct identifiable characters that hook our readers. Therefore, I've decided to offer some notes about a huge, yet still somewhat under the radar cultural trend: Vaping.
Vaping is the slang term for smoking (sucking on) modified e-cigarettes.

As a tobacco user over the age of 40, I've recently come to the conclusion that continuing this daily habit can't be sustained much longer. No one enjoys thinking about a possible early demise. My father passed early in his life, and not a day goes by when I wonder if that will happen to my brother or me. I'm not the least bit afraid of death, but I have absolutely no qualms with hanging around another 40+ years.

After much consumer research and scientific reading, I've decided to give the vaping lifestyle an honest try. It's not the safest choice, but defiitely a better alternative to direct contact with carcinogenic tobacco.

When I'd first heard of e-cigs, I thought maybe it would be a better way to get older people to quit smoking. Their introduction to the market about 10 years ago included late night infomercials, where Danny Bonaduce claimed he owed the resurrection of his already problematic life to e-cigarette technology. As far as late night trash TV goes, it was interesting to see how Chinese scientists and American distributors decided to offer up a new kind of vapor smoking solution to tobacco addiction.

For years, nothing big came of it...until they targeted kids.

The first time I'd heard the slang term vaping a couple of years ago, it seemed like the most ridiculous word in the English language. I didn't believe young people would ever buy what I considered to be poser e-cigarettes. Kids (at least in my day) always prefer the genuine rather article than artificial knockoffs. Google: 'GoBots'. Bing it: 'Voltron'.

I was simultaneously right and wrong.

Rather than peddling fake cigarettes to this new market, multiple companies decided to tap into our youthful, hip culture and offer a unique new lifestyle that fit the modern tech-nerd era. Independent developers designed the first generation of various vaping mods, which are slick looking devices that allow users to customize their vaping experiences. They still continue to improve upon those designs every few months.

Mass numbers of teenagers began puffing on colorful plastic vapor machines. I shook my head as I bore wittness to what I'd assumed was the tobacco industry hooking into the lives of America's youth.

To my surprise, tobacco companies have absolutely nothing to do with vaping.

As matter of fact, the cancer industry lobbied federal and state governments to ban the technology. Those billion dollar companies were once the sole nicotine proprietors. That's not the case with vaping, a grassroots movement of sorts. Every kid who takes up vaping is simply another tobacco consumer lost.

Of course, now the tobacco companies are ramping up their operations to play catch up with this new drug industry.

The awareness raising campaign for the vaping lifestyle was rolled out perfectly among the top manufacturers. They went right after the youth market. Hell, the first few PR articles I read and the web ads I'd consumed didn't even trigger the late night images of Danny Bonaduce. Instead of attracting older smokers with their so-called healthier alternative that 'looked and tasted like the real thing,' the vape juice that manufacturers developed come in a variety of fruit and candy flavors.

They knew if the industry were to thrive, they required the young dollar to make it happen. Of course, this is all my speculation. None of the companies admit to these obvious child outreach tactics.
Vaping isn't just a smoking alternative. It's a hobby.

Many of the [younger] people who vape are not trying to quit smoking. They've never smoked or used any form of tobacco. They're simply part of a cultural trend, a community of hobbyists, each of whom enjoy sucking flavorful foreign chemicals into their lungs.

These hobbyists can also build or customize their own vaping mods, using various tanks, atomizers, cartomizers, drip tips, batteries, air flow controls, and multiple other components. That's where the grassroots movement comes into play. There's no monopoly on this technology and multiple small companies and individuals are honing the direction of the industry.

Google: 'custom vaping mods'. Yahoo: 'build a vaping mod'. You'll see how vaping nerds build, collect, and sell their enhanced parts and styles within that community.

Writers should take note of this movement. It's the beginning of a significant cultural trend that WILL shape the next 75 years of the human experience. Our work must reflect characters that can be identified by this new generation.

Example: The key prop in 12 Angry Men is arguably chain smoking among average men to indicate their anxiety over a young man's life. Imagine how vaping can play into the next big novel, play, film, or multimedia experience.

Vaping mods no longer look like original e-cigarettes. They instead embody youth-grabbing appearances. Some examples include styles that resemble Dr. Who's Sonic Screw Driver. Others look like Hogwarts magical accessories or visages of Hello Kitty. In other words, a vaping mod is a reflection of a character's personality traits.

Hell, the vaping mod I purchased (pictured above/right) looks like a cross between a 60-gauge stainless steel cigar and a lightsaber. The first juice I purchased is labeled Boba's Bounty, a blend of cigar tobacco, mocha, and caramel.

Vaporizers and e-liquid (juice) are almost entirely unregulated.

It's the wild west out there in the new world of nicotine delivery. Much like the world wide web has been an unregulated place [in the United States] to share ideas and grow our social culture, vaping is almost a completely unregulated industry. Even though hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people are absorbing these consumables, there is virtually no governmental oversight.

I'm forced to recall my American history college classes, where we learned about hucksters who would tow carts of fix-all tonics from town to town in the hopes of making a quick buck at the expense of small town ignorance.

People nowadays are sucking what the industry calls water vapors into their lungs. In reality, these vaping enthusiasts are inhaling multiple chemicals.

So, what is e-juice?

The short answer: a compound that includes food-based chemicals, food coloring, and various milligrams of nicotine. Some juice claims to be nicotine-free for non-smokers, but in truth, the FDA tested a small sample of imported juice and found traces of nicotine. Again, it's an unregulated industry.

Some of the compounds in superior juices include: Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerin, which are food based chemicals that are considered safe for consumption, but have never been tested for human lungs by any regulatory agency. More dangerous chemicals found in inferior juices include: Acetoin and Diacetyl, which lead to all kinds of scary respiratory issues.

Regardless of the possible dangers, the future of nicotine is here.

I could go on and on about all of the research I've conducted. The American Lung Association, The American Heart Association, university scientists, clinical researchers, and private practice doctors are all weighing in with their professional opinions.

But no matter how many warnings are released on the web, one simple truth is evident: vaping is the future of nicotine delivery and it will shape the next generation. That's a powerful and necessary truth if we're to write for that audience.

How do I know this just isn't a fad or short-term business model? Two reasons:
  1. It's a grassroots movement, not a single point business operation. For every company that fails, 17 take its place.
  2. Philip Morris and other tobacco giants are now getting into the game and they will sink billions of dollars into the endeavor to ensure top market positions.
I wish us all luck as we navigate the psychology of this new world to develop the best possible characters and their stories. Much like the discovery of oil or the invent of the web, we are witnessing a new age of either potential health issues or a possible end to rampant tobacco cancers.

Only time will tell.

Good writing, my friends.


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