Ladies and Gentlemen, We’re Floating in Vape.


Vastly becoming a popular alternative to cigarettes, Vaping is gently floating towards a cultural connoisseur phenomenon like chemex coffee, craft beer and cronuts. Ciaran McCausland attends Vapefest 2015 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, immersing himself in the billowing flavoured haze to discuss what attracted him and other like minded individuals to the cult of vape.

I think it was when I saw the two oul fellas standing outside Thurles Cathedral collecting coin for Fine Gael, each brandishing a vaping contraption, that I decided that vaping had gone mainstream in Ireland. “See” I said to my wife, “even those dying looking old blueshirts are into it”. I’d gotten into vaping approximately 12 months previously and had been watching its growth in use with interest. “Vape will be bigger than craft beer when it really takes off” I said smugly. In the last two years Vape shops had appeared in every town in Ireland. At first, with the transient look of short-lived Cash 4 Gold outfits, head-shops or other ephemeral enterprises, but lately, more permanent looking fixtures have arrived, without that look of being the latest ‘blow in’ to trouble the one commercial premises in town that never holds a tenant for more than 6 months. The associated gear is evolving rapidly too – starter kits are giving way to advanced modular set-ups, variable strength batteries, adjustable air-flow tanks, voltage control, wattage control, coil resistance, drippers, and wicking. The inherent scope for tinkering and messing about has become a right honey trap for a certain type of hobbyist, a type who seems to dominate the online vape forums, developing blue-prints for the ultimate modular set-up in their man-caves, engaging in arms races to build the hardware to deliver the mega cloud. The raw material of vaping is called ‘juice’ or ‘liquid’. Vape liquids are a flavoured suspension of nicotine (usually) in propylene glycol, glycerine and water. The most common mode of packaging is in child locked glass dropper bottles. There are thousands of flavours available online, in an exponentially growing marketplace with an artisan/craft element now becoming established as a large piece of this pie. Imagine the perfume industry on a wild night out with some Reddit bros. Words swirl in rivers of bullshit around the more artisan flavours

A truly unique flavor expression, Dragonscape is at once transcendent and surprisingly sessionable. Earthy and smooth, it hints at an exotic blend of Indian spices and asian teas within a creamy custard of Belgian cafe and Madagascar vanilla.

My own journey into Vape began one night about a year or so ago, as I lay awake contemplating the accumulated soft tissue damages wrought on my lungs by an eighteen year “20 a day” habit. My lungs felt paper thin, I could hear the sad sigh of dying alveoli in the anxious witching hours, and my breaths had grown notably shallow. To be honest it scared me. I’d become a father recently, and had made many attempts to quit cold turkey. A few lads at work had Vape starter kits, and the fact that they had not relapsed into smoking intrigued me. That day after work I chanced a €15 starter kit, a basic battery with a horrible plastic tank, along with some generic “red energy” flavour juice – purported to taste like red bull. A year later and I now have a Vape cupboard, containing 35 different flavours of liquid at last count. ‘Tadaaaa’ I say to guests as I open it with a flourish. Many were purchased online on the basis of blurbs like the one for Dragonscape above, to be abandoned after a few disappointing hits, serving only as window dressing to thicken out the visual impact of my stash. I still smoke cigarettes too, and this is not uncommon, many people who take up vape fall foul of a sort of limbo in which one becomes a ‘dual user’. With Vape I have spent much more than I expected, mostly replacing lost batteries. For such an emerging industry, it is impressive how producers are cleverly finding new ways to part the enthusiast with their money every week. For example I have recently gotten into sub-ohm coils which vapourise much bigger volumes of liquid per unit of power than standard coils.

I think it is fair enough for me to describe myself as a vape enthusiast now; my interest is such that my wife and I went so far as to draw up a business plan for a vape café. Nothing came of it though, much to my wife’s disappointment; I am no entrepreneur and all the qualities she brought to the table, conceptualisation, confidence, drive, pragmatism, and vison were found wanting in me. I can hear myself now, taking the wind out of her sails with my cautious lazy risk averse rationalisations ‘in a nascent, somewhat unregulated industry setting up a Vape Café would not be without risks, the legislation is going to eventually arrive with all sorts of unforeseen consequences’. As an exercise it wasn’t completely without value, it did at least invigorate our marriage with something of uncommon shared interest for a couple of precious nights.

Online, people perceive my relationship with Vape as one of irony, perhaps even masking something akin to disdain. This is only partly true. There is a cultural element to Vape which I have only vaguely alluded to hence far, and it is mostly an online thing. It’s hard to describe, but easy to ridicule. It’s a blend of many various tropes; a male dominated Reddit neckbeard element yes, but also skate culture, Monster Energy drink cargo pant vibes, custom dog tags, a touch of death metal, lots of headwear – baseball caps, trilbies, anonymous masks and fedoras. None of which most people would consider cool. I play to that a bit online. There are several Vape groups on Facebook. All of which are closed groups. Not one of them has granted me membership. My frustrated efforts to gain entry to these inner sanctums have oft been shared to the Facebook peanut gallery for the lols.


This brings me to Vapefest, a Vaping Expo which was held in the Aviva Stadium on November 14th. For many weeks I ran my intent to attend it as a sort of ironic running joke on Facebook. I signalled that I would live-update from the event in an effort to gain more likes on Facebook, my online mana. It promised to be one of the biggest vaping events to be held in Europe to date, with numerous high profile names from the industry set up at stands to promote their wares. I was excited at the prospect of tasting many new flavours. But I wondered what sort of people would attend? I wondered what was the state of Vape in November 2015.

The day started poorly, I woke to news of multiple terrorist attacks in Paris with a rising death toll. Outside the rain was lashing down and my babysitter was late. None of the few people who I intended to attend with were answering text messages. At midday, 2 hours later than I intended I grab my treasured e-stick vaping contraption and get a taxi in to the Vaping heartlands. On disembarking the taxi I find my e-stick to be missing. I eventually get through to the taxi driver by phone, but he can’t find it. I mope around a bit, poking in some very large puddles adjacent to where I got out of the taxi, but can’t find it. I am at Vapefest without a vape. Also, I’m soaked and alone. Before entering the event (which is free admission) I find an ATM and withdraw €100, I’m already resigned to the likelihood I will shell out between €50 and €80 on new vaping hardware. This cheered me up a little, once I’ve rationalised an imminent big spend to myself my mood always lifts.

I had asked my mother to come to Vapefest with me. I’ve been trying to encourage her to take up the electric stick for some time now. “There will be loads of people just like you there” I said to her, I had made the assumption that Vapefest would be an equal mix of people who vape (habit) and people who vape (the lifestyle). She wasn’t interested. On entering the Aviva I was met with a completely novel atmosphere. I had never before entered an environment where multiple people were vaping at once. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in the building had a vape in their hand. The atmosphere is jungle like, steaming, aromatic. A hundred different flavours combine in muddy frequencies. Lads are standing around here and there, tilting their heads back, and proudly blowing volcanic plumes upward, peacocking with their extravagant mods; a pursuit known as ‘cloud chasing’. And this was only the bar area, not even the main event, which is located in the lower floors. I text my friend who was supposed to meet up with me, ‘you know the Cantina bar scene in Star Wars?, well it’s exactly like that’.


I decide to go down and explore the main arena. If the atmosphere above was jungle like, the only way to describe the atmosphere below is Vulcan. These are heavy vibes. Ceiling lights probe the mist like lasers. A homogenous background fog has penetrated every cubic centimetre of available space; against which contributory plumes of concentrated vapour shoot off like solar flares. Such is the density of vapour that visibility is limited to a few metres. “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in vape!” I chuckle to myself. It is overwhelming, but nobody seems phased by it. I figure you adjust after a while.

As my wife is now on her way in to meet me I decide that the most prudent thing to do is to purchase a new vaping contraption before her arrival. I am, of course, spoiled for choice, and analysis paralysis creeps up on me. “Recommend something basic enough,” I ask a middle aged man dressed like a Linkin Park guitarist. A few minutes later I own an eVic-VTC mini. It has a maximum power of 60W and excellent features such as temperature control and replaceable battery. Sleek with a nice LED read out, and with a bulky heavy set feel, it fits snugly into my hand, really solid stuff. Device purchased, I relax and assess the scene. Along the stalls in the fog, there are several hundred types of liquid for sale. It feels like a marketplace straight out of Sci-Fi, and for some reason I am put in mind of Total Recall, perhaps because of the elaborate contraptions everyone is holding. There are Anonymous masks for sale and being worn. For the benefit of the Facebook peanut gallery, I take a clandestine selfie – man in Anonymous mask top left background. People are in great humour, there’s camaraderie and easy going banter amongst tradespeople and customers, but overall, the most striking thing is the utter enthusiasm on display, smiles for miles. Everyone is so in to it, and boy are they spending money. I overhear a large wholesale shipping arrangement being agreed to in principle and shook upon. The two gentlemen involved then have a mutual vape to toast the deal. There is talk of Bitcoin in the air, it feels like the vape SubReddit come to life. “A billion lives” is a slogan I see hung on Vapefest staff lanyards. I ask a man about it. It’s a reference to a documentary film he tells me, “a billion people will die this century from smoking, and Vape offers a path away from this catastrophe.” I nod, but my current circumstances in which I find myself as a ‘dual user’ causes me a twinge of something like anxiety.


My friend and wife arrive. “you were right, it is just like Star Wars here”. We begin to test the liquids. Almost all, if not all, liquids are available to sample, not unlike a wine tasting. Each stall comes supplied with disposable tips to attach to the vape contraptions for hygiene purposes. Choosing liquids to taste is daunting due to the variety, however, the liquids seem to nucleate around a few core flavour groups. The most prominent clusters are Tobacco analogues, Fruit flavours, so-called Breakfast or cereal flavours and Menthol. I’m a fruit man myself, ‘the fruity scald’ as I call it, but I have been known to go for breakfast liquids too. An artisan element is evident at some stands on the exhibition floor. I notice a real dichotomy in liquid branding. On one hand there is energy drink style branding, jagged neon letters, snarling tigers and sharks – Suicide Bunny, Shark’s Blood, Narwhal Blood, and Milf’s Milk, in your face stuff for sure, aligned with the true spirit of vape . On the other hand, are brands such as Gentlemen’s Liquid, Beard, and Frisco staking out a claim for gentrification, “authenticity” and craft. Lads in butcher’s aprons and waistcoats engage in a ‘ye olde apotechary’ pantomime, not unlike the increasingly tiresome tropes of the craft beer scene. To me, these brands feel a bit phoney. My wife, meanwhile, lashes into some Milf’s Milk. “Put a photo of me on Facebook trying this one,” she says, “and get the branding in the background.”

As I keep tasting, I eventually become nauseous from tasting too many liquids, and I note with some dismay how few new flavour tropes appear to emerge, I keep tasting the same overwhelming notes in very differently described brands, it must be certain chemicals I decide. Every salesperson I speak to vapes while I talk to them. There is nobody apparently willing to take more than a 30 second break from the vape. It has become busier since lunch time and the air is almost opaque with vapour. I take a fresh air break and walk out on to a balcony with my companions. All around people are spayed out on the ground in groups chattering. It is like a chill-out zone at a dance event. Everyone is still vaping.

We return inside and I finally purchase some liquids. Anode: a bizzare and quite unique flavour, it wins me over on sheer novelty, an electric purple colour, it fizzes with gobstopper flavours, ending with a very distinct anise note on the exhale. “That will be ten dollars” says the man selling it, a big American dude in a tight t-shirt. I give him ten euros. I buy an earl grey peach tea flavoured liquid off another American man; he also cites “ten dollars” as the asking price. Jet lag I guess. The peach tea earl grey liquid is a real find. The flavour is subtle, nuanced and easy on the tongue. “A great all day-vape” as yer man who sold it to me said.

We decide to leave, as we all feel a bit woozy from the quantity of products we have tried, and possibly the quantity of vapour in the atmosphere. Vape is quickly becoming a mainstream habit in Ireland, but Vapefest was all the better for feeling outside of that mainstream, with its tattooed bears blowing huge smoke rings and questionably branded products like Milf’s Milk. It could yet be a while until the Fine Gael fellas get the bus up. An hour or two later I am sitting in a nearby bar enjoying a pint and a pizza; and I turn to my friend, ‘Here man, I need a cigarette to cleanse my palate’. Ciaran McCausland