“We’ve often been compared to the Johnny Walker Blue of e-liquid,” Jerabek says. “All of our branding and all of our marketing is going after an upper-tier clientele … It’s not a liquid that is for someone who quit smoking yesterday. We cater to more of an aficionado or a connoisseur.”
While on one hand, the appearance of high-end brands like Five Pawns proves just how widely the e-cig market has been able to spread its wings as the FDA scrambles. But it also shows a product within the vaping industry that is aligning itself for whatever legal storms might lie ahead.
“The FDA is right on with what they’re proposing with targeting toward youth. I do not believe that this product should be in the hands of people under 18,” Jerabek says. “Nicotine is a stimulant, and nicotine is addictive. And we do sell a tremendous amount of product with no nicotine, but it is still an addictive stimulant just like coffee … I don’t think kids under 18 should be drinking Starbucks either.”
Nicotine poisoning has surged in recent years. A New York Times article says that in 2013, e-juice consumption calls to poison control centers rose by 300 percent. That’s precisely why Jerabek says Five Pawns discontinued its 24-milligram strength juice. “Lets just say a child were to drink 24-milligram strength bottle by accident, that could potentially be a problem,” he says. Though he says Five Pawns sells a “tremendous” amount of e-juice with zero nicotine content, for people who want enjoy the flavor, like they might enjoy wine.
And though many cloud chasers also vape nicotine-free e-juices—a blend of propylene glycol (the stuff that comes out of fog machines) and vegetable glycerine—Jerabek isn’t trying to cater to those folks. “I don’t think it’s good for the industry,” he says.
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Ahmed Lakhaney works at New York’s Henley Vaporium and runs the podcast “Plumes of Hazard” with four of his friends—a fascinating program that shows just how deep vape-tech geekery can go. But the 25-year-old says he’s over cloud chasing.
“I’m done chasing. I guess I found my cloud. I’m not trying to go any larger,” he says.
Cloud chasing, he says, combines three things: technique, air flow, and building the right technology—but not everyone understands the restrictions of their devices.
“These people are basically pushing batteries to their limits if not past their limits,” he says. Lakhaney says that when he sells e-cigarettes now at Henley, he’s sure to preach safety, too. One exploded battery in someone’s face could ruin vaping for everyone. “It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to be smart about it not just for your own sake and your own safety, but it’s bad press.”
Cloud chasing is like the beer-bonging of the vaping world. “Cloud chasing is perfectly indicative of American culture. The whole ‘bigger is better’ mentality,” he says. Now isn’t the time, he says, for e-cigarettes to get any negative press. “People’s own sense of entitlement when it comes to vaping can hurt the industry in the long run. The ball’s not in our court, we’re not calling the shots.”
Erik Hutchinson, the guy trying to start the pro-vaping circuit, admits cloud chasers are “on the extreme end of vaping.” Hutchinson says he just wants people to see it as a healthy alternative to smoking.
He says vaping is more than just quitting. It’s a movement of Americans putting their feet down on oppressive corporations and snuffing out Big Tobacco, once and for all. “Sometimes it just takes something as simple as vaping to reignite that spark that built this country in the first place.”