Planet of the Vapes: A Look Inside the Emerging World of E-Cigarette Hacking
But something’s been lost in the haze: E-cigarettes are fascinating technological objects. Blow past the big names like NJoy and Tru and you’ll discover that e-cigarettes have spawned a “vaping” subculture. The movement revolves around electronic devices that deliver nicotine but otherwise hardly resemble cigarettes at all.
Devoted users tweak existing e-cigs endlessly. They fiddle with atomizers to control the release of custom-blended juices. They adjust the heated coils to deliver cleaner nicotine “hits” or maximum clouds of vapor (a practice sometimes called “fogging”). And in some cases they go pro and produce gorgeous limited-edition objects that sell for hundreds of dollars.
E-cig “modders” congregate online or at vape-store meetups, showing off their latest “builds,” like hackers or hot-rod enthusiasts. But this is more than a geeky sideshow to the larger public health debate. These e-cig hackers may just influence how the emerging gadgets are thought of by politicians and policymakers in America.
From “Korean/Filipino collaboration” Deus Mods.
The history of electronic cigarettes is relatively short. The first examples, created in China about a decade ago, involved a battery-heated coil that converted liquid nicotine into vapor. They looked like cigarettes, they were used like cigarettes (suck in, blow out), and they overtly aimed to be cigarette substitutes.
Markets developed for e-cigs in Asia and Europe. But as recently as five years ago, when Mathew Dryhurst, an active figure on the art-and-technology scene in San Francisco, first heard about vaping, choices in the U.S. were still quite limited. Most of the information — and all of the online sellers — seemed to be coming from middle America. He settled on a Joyetech 510, a cylinder with replaceable cartridges, a push-button controller and a light-up tip.
“It looked kind of future,” he recalls. And he found that useful: “If I make this part of my look, it motivates me to use it,” instead of smoking.
Aaron David Ross, a New York-based musician, met Dryhurst a couple of years ago. He, too, was trying to quit smoking. By then Dryhust had upgraded to a more sophisticated — and futuristic-looking — JoyeTech device called the eGo, with a changeable atomizer system. Ross was into it — and his enthusiasm for the technical side of vaping drew him into the modder scene.
A big part of the attraction was finding something that wasn’t attempting the impossible task of replicating the “analog cigarette” experience, he explains: “It doesn’t feel like a cigarette in your hand, it doesn’t feel like one in your mouth. You don’t hold it the same way. Your lips aren’t in the same position. It’s a different thing. It’s about modifying the ritual in a way where you could get excited about the differences, as opposed to the similarities.”
That basic attitude, actually, may be the core element of vape-world. On the one hand, there are super-DIY manifestations like RiP Trippers, who can get more than 100,000 views for an 18-minute YouTube video about a specific “coil build.” On the other hand, Instagram accounts like VapersReview feature slick product shots reminiscent of the fashion world.