It’s likely you haven’t heard, but those who smoke electronic cigarettes may find their basic human rights going up in smoke—or more accurately, up in some type of synthetic vapor—very soon. According to a recent piece by Vice contributor Kaleigh Rogers, the implementation of heavy vape regulations is nigh. Reportedly on the eighth step of a nine-part Food And Drug Administration regulatory process that was put into action four years ago, the fate of the electronic cigarette is uncertain. The article references strict new proposed rules and a possible grandfathering date that would wipe most existing e-cigs and accessories off the market. To quote Rogers’ piece:
“Just a few possibilities remain that could alter that date and tip the scales between two potential futures: the beginning of a new, more-structured market for e-cigarettes, or the veritable death of vaping on US soil.”
The article goes on to provide procedural details about the proposed regulations, which would require manufacturers to file and pay a staggering amount for Pre-Market Tobacco Applications for every one of their products that hit the market after 2007 (essentially everything on the market today), and a variety of other legal hoops the industry will, in all likelihood, be forced to navigate. Blah, blah, blah. In short, vapers are fucked.
Besides fewer than five drunken cigarettes in my lifetime—used more so as comic props than vices—I’ve never smoked, and I especially don’t consider myself a vaper. Still, not unlike a person who wasn’t old enough to enjoy the delicious danger of original Sparks, a stateside sweet tooth who can’t indulge in the taboo treat known as a Kinder Surprise, or someone without a weed hookup, I didn’t want to knowingly witness both the birth and death of the electronic cigarette without at least trying it. However, with the industry all but guaranteed to shutter soon and the generally unappealing nature of this endeavor, I wanted to try to cram years worth of quality vaping (an oxymoron, to be sure) in Milwaukee into a single afternoon.
Once I accepted my fate as an attempted serial vapist, I took my business to Lakeview Vapor, one of the longest-standing and (totally guessing) most respected e-cig and vaping juice purveyors in Bay View’s burgeoning vape district. Walking in on a weekday afternoon, I was instantly met by a fragrant cloud of fruit-scented smoke produced by a dude lounging on a couch near the entrance. I meekly approached the counter where an incredibly friendly middle-aged guy named Bill helped me navigate the intimidating abundance of e-cig implements and the dozens of flavors, including everything from fruit flavors to a bunch of animals with the “Blood” suffix, traditional tobacco scents, and more. The guidance from Bill—who told me he was a massive smoker for more than 30 years before weening himself off completely thanks to e-cigs in the last four years—helped me settle on the cheapest cig they had ($24) and a vial of Banana Nut Bread vaping juice ($12) that purportedly yields the same amount of puffs as two cartons of traditional grandpa cigarettes.
The juice comes in six different nicotine levels. To corroborate my lie about being a regular social smoker, I opted for a level near the middle of the spectrum, which I would almost immediately come to regret and would fully hate myself for the following morning. As customers/regulars/dudes just hanging out and smoking in the store overheard my inexperience, one came up to advise me to recharge my new smoking tool in an LCD television opposed to my laptop due to the strength of the charge. It was crazy, but I kind of sensed a brotherhood among these vapers. I felt welcomed in to the tribe. Bill cemented his exemplary customer service and even went as far as filling my cig with juice, while instructing me how to use it: Hit the button six times fast to turn it on, hold the button to smoke, hit the button six times fast to turn it off. I was ready. Well, I was almost ready.
To appropriately document my epic Milwaukee vape sesh so I could one day show my grandchildren (no doubt all severely mutated from a bloodline sufficiently tainted by unregulated Banana Bread vape juice) what it was like to smoke like Stephen Dorff did in 2015, I called upon friend/photographer Michael Goelzer to follow me around and capture my synthetic smoke trail that would lead me to some of the city’s most iconic, beloved, and weird places over the course of the next four hours. Yes, there are so many more places we could have gone (and some we tried to, but were outright told to leave), but I’d like to think we made some good ground given our time constraints and my lung limitations. In what’s likely to be the waning months of vape legality, here’s my “Better Vape Than Never” photo essay.
All photos by Michael Goelzer.We bought two donuts for $1.80 and got four mini donuts for free. Tell me Honey Dip isn’t a Milwaukee landmark. We went in Milwaukee’s premier scuba shop with the intention of asking to do something like this. No employees came out, so I just did it. Then an employee came out. Then we went to my car. More like “Vape On The Hill.”
Still not well-versed with the e-cig, I had two lower-level false starts (where one vendor yelled “Hey!” at me) before running up the stairs to do this in a secluded corner near the elevator. Yeah, I wussed out…but is it cooler that I did it while I was illegally parked? Now on-air: Banana Nut Bread bullshit. Marcus Doucette (left) didn’t seem to be a big fan of this article’s concept. Vaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaape Travels!
“You look like you’re homeless… I mean, because of the way you’re sitting.” – Michael Goelzer
Days later, a man was kicked out of the Jackson Browne concert at the Riverside Theater for vaping. I can’t help but feel partially responsible.
In case you didn’t know, this is the entrance to the Safe House. It’s in an alley off Wells Street across from Pabst Theater. The password is “I’m looking for a safe house.” This happened right in front of the security station. Nobody seemed to care. Mike guessed the mall’s staff was just happy to have people walking around, even if they weren’t buying shit.
What the fuck. Why not just have all these articles roll together?