Veteran E-Cigarette Users Fret 'Cloud Chasers' Give Them a Bad Name

Vaping electronic cigarettes
New models of e-cigarettes can create giant clouds of vapor, and “vapers” fear that could produce a legal crackdown Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Their head is in the clouds.

Long-term "vapers," what e-cigarette users call themselves, allege that some vaping newcomers are making the industry's image go up in faux smoke—by blowing distastefully big fog clouds in public.

E-cigarettes use battery power to vaporize an elixir typically containing flavor, nicotine and a food grade solvent such as propylene glycol. Because users inhale and exhale this vapor, all e-cigs release at least a tiny, fog-like cloud.

However, a handful of increasingly popular, high-end models, which look a lot more like clarinets than cigarettes, are designed to produce as much vapor as possible. Vapers preferring this variety, many of whom refer to themselves as "cloud chasers," sometimes participate in cloud-blowing contests for cash.

As vaping comes under more and more scrutiny nationwide, including the Philadelphia City Council's recent decision to ban e-cigs in public, some veteran vapers say that renegade cloud chasers are partly to blame for the bad press—and thwart legislative efforts to protect the practice.

Spike Babaian, founder of the National Vapers Club and co-owner of Vape New York, an e-cigarette chain with three stores in that city, is among those who disapprove, actively discouraging customers from using devices that emit large vapor clouds, sometimes called "foggers," because they make for bad P.R.

"It's frustrating for the advocates who are trying to stop a ban when 20-year-old kids are blowing these giant clouds and are like, 'Look at me, I'm so cool,' " says Babaian, who is fighting New York's prohibition on e-cigarette use in bars, restaurants and parks. "It's like a 'whose truck is bigger, whose truck is shinier?' kind of contest."

Babaian isn't asking vapers to be more conservative—quickly pointing out that she wears a spiked collar and had her "head shaved for a long time"—but says that "there's something to be said for not making a spectacle."

"It's a matter of offending people by the way it looks," she says.

Babaian also clarifies that she's for the rights of all vapers, but "it's more of an anti-douchebag thing than an anti-fogger thing."

Gregory Kitchens, a Texas resident who says cloud chasing is "a way of life" for him, doesn't get the flak, disagreeing with the notion that his hobby makes vaping look bad.

"It's an unfair image that they're casting over cloud chasers," says Kitchens, 25. "Just like mechanics love working on cars and musicians love picking up a guitar, it's just something that I love to do."

Any time Kitchens walks into a store or restaurant, including e-cigarette shops, he always asks whether it's OK to vape before doing so. One of his favorite restaurants, Applebee's, allows vaping most of the time but not cloud chasing—and he respects that rule.

When he does cloud-chase in public, he claims he gets more friendly questions than negative feedback.

Even his 5-year-old-son "gets a kick out of us vaping," adds Kitchens, who has been vaping for nine months and making clouds for eight. "At one point, early on in cloud chasing, I was blowing a cloud, and he said 'Daddy! You're going to run out of juice!'

"It was really funny."

And yet concern over cloud chasing persists for those amenable to the practice in the vaping community.

A handful of manners lapses, including some cases of cloud chasing in municipal meetings about restricting e-cigarettes, have damaged the vapers rights movement, because non-vapers fear the fog.

Cloud-size contention has also become a topic of conversation at vaping activism events such as VapefestDC, a National Vapers Club-sponsored convention two weekends ago that doubled as a trade show and lobbying fundraiser.

Cynthia Cabrera, executive director of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, warned several dozen vapers in her legal and political education workshop about being "your own worst enemy" with careless exhalation, especially at public meetings.

"Please stop going to these meetings and blowing these huge billow[ing] clouds of vapor," she said as a sweet, strawberry-scented haze drifted through the conference room at the Hyatt Dulles, an airport hotel outside of Washington, D.C. "Have respect for the people that don't know what the products are and are afraid of them."

An activist education pamphlet distributed at the same convention included "do not vape" among its tips for public meetings.

Another Vapefest attendee lamented to Newsweek, "Demonstrating cloud-chasing skills in public hearings and enclosed places such as restaurants or shops does more harm than good."