Beaumont Vape Community Gaining Steam March 25 2014
The new shop caters to fans of e-cigarettes and their variants, including members of the Southeast Texas Steam Knights.
In a corner of a dark bar on a Sunday evening, a cloud of vapor hangs over a group of energetically conversing young men.
Vaporizers in one hand, plates of cold cuts in the other, they are representatives of the Steam Knights, a burgeoning group of vape enthusiasts who meet monthly to share knowledge and foster a new hobby.
The vapor quickly dissipates but the excitement remains. Their enthusiastic conversations use jargon more reminiscent of car repair than the intricacies involved in modifying a hand-held piece of equipment. When I observe that the devices remind me of Doctor Who’s Sonic Screwdriver, the comparison elicits humored agreement. Some mods are quite advanced, like the VAMO, which has a tiny digital screen on its handle that can be used to adjust voltage and wattage.
It’s impossible to describe this world without employing quite a bit of slang. As with any new scene, you’ll find a wealth of new terms that join these groups together.
For starters, “vape” is an encompassing term that includes e-cigarettes — like Blu and eGo — as well as the mechanical mods used by those deeper in the hobby. Vape is the instrument, vaping is the act, vaper is the person and vapor is the cloud that vaping produces. A mod is any device that isn’t a base model e-cigarette.
These basic terms don’t even begin to crack the shell of everything a new vaper needs to know — thus, the creation of the Steam Knights.
The Steam Knights group was founded recently by Clayton Coburn and Ben Tanner to combat some of the rumors and misconceptions regarding vaping. According to Tanner and Coburn, bringing together a group of hobbyists weeds out misinformation.
“There’s so much bad information in the area,” Coburn said.
Common misconceptions include an association with drug use. While some e-cigarettes may be iffy — and these devices haven’t been around long enough for long-term study about their effects on the human body — the Steam Knights know which vendors are reputable and are happy to share that information.
Southeast Texans will inevitably take part in the growing national debate about whether vaping is truly healthier than smoking — and about the possible side effects of second-hand vapor. The biggest local debate in the near future will most likely be whether vaping falls under the city-wide smoking ban.
I witnessed the beginning of this debate at the first official meetup of the Steam Knights. Although the group had previous permission to host their event at this local bar, the amount of vapor produced by the group of 20 began to bother nearby patrons. At the request of an employee, the group moved outside.
“That’s what this group is about,” Coburn said. “Most of us are really friendly and outgoing people.”
Like any knight, the Steam Knights have a code of ethics. Their code is rather simple: no minors (this rule is strictly enforced) and no jerks. Beyond that, each Knight must recognize his role in introducing vaping to Southeast Texas and be a good ambassador. Knights must avoid encroaching on the rights of others, and remember that everybody starts somewhere.
“We don’t want to give vaping a bad name,” Coburn said.
They don’t bash shops or setups and everyone is welcome, so long as they are of legal age. As the members of the group embrace vaping, so do they embrace a healthier, positive lifestyle. The result is a group that started as a few friends on Facebook and has grown to almost 70 strong. They add new members all the time, a growth that is representative of how the hobby of vaping is growing worldwide.
“It’s growing so fast,” Coburn said. “I’m still pretty new myself.”
Early adopters tend to have more in common than not. Most of them are men age 21 to 40 who were introduced to vaping as a method to stop smoking. Many of them haven’t smoked a cigarette in months; the mere thought of a cigarette is sickening.
For some, vaping is more successful for smoking cessation for several reasons. One of the most commonly cited reasons is that vaping replicates the act of smoking more realistically than just supplementing nicotine intake. Different flavors or liquids can be crafted — much like cooking — to give a throat feel, the burning one experiences after taking a drag off cigarettes.
Alternatively, one can play up the actual flavor of the liquid and enjoy the taste, like a good craft beer or cocktail. But as the name implies, most of the Steam Knights are looking for the satisfaction of producing a huge cloud.
“It’s all about vapor production,” Coburn said. “You actually blow out a cloud as if you were smoking.”
The landscape of vapers is changing. Specialty flavors like banana pudding, waffle, El Camino, Mountain Dew and white rabbit have stretched the use of vaping beyond traditional audiences. Yes, there are lady vapers or vape-ettes (my terms, not theirs) who use low or no nicotine liquids and enjoy mods as much as any fella.
Overall, the group is decidedly altruistic. Experienced vapers share old equipment with new vapers, and the new vapers seem grateful someone has taken the time to explain all of the seemingly confusing pieces of this hobby. Tanner and Coburn promised that while the first stepping stones on the journey to vaping may seem like boulders, the path soon levels out and becomes more manageable.
In keeping with the spirit of altruism, it seems the only entry into the vape world is a promise to treat others as you have been treated, especially when it comes to non-vapers. Always practice common courtesy around people who aren’t vaping, members say, and don’t be afraid of a question or two.
“Smoking is very encroaching on people,” Tanner said. “It’s a respect thing — respect for other people who don’t vape.”
After one evening with the vapers, I feel like I may understand the shape of their world, though not all of the pieces within.
Christina Jones, Beaumont Enterprise, Beaumont vape community gaining steam