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The quest for the coolest cloud

Remember bubble-blowing contests? A line of kids masticating gargantuan gobs of bubble gum to answer the eternal question, "Who's got the biggest?"

Well, a line-up of brawny, tattooed palookas is reviving the custom, after a fashion, vying to produce the biggest vapor cloud, and doing it with all the rambunctious charm of the bubble-gum-chewing brats of yesteryear. But, nota bene, they're all well over 18.

It's a competition some are calling the X-games of vaping, and everyone agrees it's just about the coolest new thing. New Yorkers, competing at the Henley Vaporium, are wont to claim the custom as a Big Apple thing (plus ça change), but they would have to do some talking with Angelino vapers, who have been having "cloud contests" for years at the Vape Meets sponsored by United Vapers all over the LA area. Indeed one of the sponsors of the recent contest at the Henley was the LA shop Ameravape.

What's unmistakeably clear is that mods are the new cool. No e-cigs here – they can't produce the clouds that souped up mods can, cranked up by their passionate hobbyist owner/creators. This should lay to rest the concern of fretful vaping detractors, worried that electronic cigarettes will "reglamorize smoking". Quite the contrary! Combustible cigarettes and even their imitators, e-cigs, are eating the dust of the coolest thing ever – mods. The competitors ("cloud chasers") in the cloud contests receive sponsorships from vape shops and the like, and are in effect "professional vapers".

It must be disconcerting for the public-smoking ban crowd to see these clouds of harmless vapor, they look so much like the smoke-filled rooms of yester-year. But the soaring popularity of virtually harmless vapor-tank vaping systems is a grass-roots phenomenon that should make any sane smoking opponent dance for joy. There are concerns about youth use, to be sure. The Henley and the shops hosting United Vapers meets allow no minors, of course. By and large vape shops and vape lounges are good about this, understanding the importance of keeping their noses clean in the midst of a huge public controversy. And they know the true importance of waiting until the age of 18, after full neural development, to begin vaping nicotine. The forthcoming national youth-sales bans should help. Vaping at 18 can become a true rite of passage. But cigarettes will be left behind.

And the glamor issue is dying. Mods have won on glamor, hands down. The gateway issue, too, is taking major hits from the mods craze. Who would take up smoking cancer-sticks, after seeing the glory of a gargantuan, and harmless, vapor cloud from a super-cool dude with colorful tattoos from shoulder to knuckles?

The competition not only fosters innovation, says Henley founder Talia Eisenberg, but it "builds the culture and the community around Vaping." Ameravape is holding cloud contests all over the country, leading up to a national summit.

The mod craze shows no signs of slowing down, and cloud contests are likely to grow their popularity to even greater heights.