My “Cloud” Is Bigger Than Yours: Vaping Contests Light Up

In generations past, it was the cool kid in the crowd (mostly not the jocks, but part of the fringe group) who could garner attention by being able to blow the biggest and longest-lasting smoke rings from cigarettes. Never mind that smoking wasn’t legal for teens. Fueled, in part, by teenage rebellion and a desire to stand out, smoking was considered a rite of passage for American youth.

Fast-forward to today’s young adults, assailed by ads for vaping products and devices and now to the point where vapor shops are enticing participation in vaping contests: Who can create the biggest “cloud” of white-plumed e-cig vapor?

“Cloud Chasing” in Texas

Crazes come and go, and they originate in all geographic spots. While the newest competitive sport, called ‘cloud chasing,’ has been around for about three years, spreading from Raleigh, North Carolina to Los Angeles to Canada and Indonesia, it’s really catching on today. A Wall Street Journal story covers a vaping contest in Plano, Texas. In cloud chasing competition, would-be winners (cloud chasers) pull out their e-cig devices, raise them to their lips, inhale deeply, and proceed to shoot out the dense clouds of “smoke.”

Whoever can shoot a cloud the longest distance (measured against, in this case, a giant measuring tape on a wall) wins the competition — at least, the first round. And, yes, there are generally multiple rounds, sort of like preliminary bouts en route to the finals. Spectators, by the way, are known as cloud gazers.

The winner in the Plano first round managed a cloud that extended 6 feet, while second-place went to the contestant who blew a nearly 5-foot-long cloud. Cash prizes can range from $250 to $2,000 — and the stakes are likely to get higher as the extreme sport spreads.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is just a bunch of (mostly) young people having fun, right? What could possibly be wrong with vaping contests? Getting past that for a minute, consider how e-cigs have literally blown across America. As the WSJ report continues, there are an estimated 8,500 vape shops across America, doing a highly lucrative $1.2 billion in sales.

As for the vaping contests themselves, most are not advertised to teens by the vape shop owners, since 40 states have laws on the books making selling e-cigs to minors illegal.

Some device manufacturers defend vaping contests as antismoking rallies. But not everyone is convinced such a sport is harmless. They’re more like gaming devices, in a sense, and not at all the kind of image conducive to destigmatizing e-cigs as a smoking cessation device. Some consumer groups object to the vapors, calling them “offensive.”

What about the effect on teens? Even though vaping is not supposed to be for anyone under 18 (in 40 states), seeing an older brother or sister or some other adult role model competing in this kind of extreme sport will surely prompt a desire to get into the game. The more publicity, the bigger the prizes, the more the hype and “Likes” on Facebook and twitter shares, the more young people will gravitate toward e-cigs and vaping — whether or not they’re old enough to compete in vaping contests.

The Good and Bad News about E-Cigs

The debate is hot and heavy about e-cigarettes. It ranges from proponents claiming, with some valid research backing it up, that e-cigs reduce cravings for tobacco, and help smokers who want to quit do so, to reports that ads for e-cigs increase the desire to smoke tobacco, to concerns about the toxins contained in e-cig vapors that could be hazardous to health. Confusing, right?

What about the addictive potential of e-cigarettes? A Penn State study found them to be less addictive than regular tobacco cigarettes. But Forbes calls e-cigs a “battery-operated, addiction-based market to watch.” The use of e-cigs has surpassed traditional cigarettes as the smoke of choice for U.S. teens, according to a Monitoring the Future Study.

It’s also necessary to consider the ease of access to e-cigs. News outlets, including USA Today, point to the disturbing fact that e-cigs are readily available online to teens seeking to buy them – even though online sales of e-cigarettes to minors are prohibited in 41 states.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently does not regulate e-cigarettes, but the FDA Center for Tobacco Products is seeking public comment on e-cigarettes for the third and final workshop — presumably, before making a ruling. The FDA website does indicate some adverse events that have been reported that required hospitalization after use of e-cigarettes, including pneumonia, disorientation, seizure, hypotension, congestive heart failure and other health problems.

Vaping: A Bright or “Cloudy” Future?

Where does all this leave vaping in general? Does the current explosion in vaping contests signal a continuing trend or a passing cloud? Only time — and some hard research into the potential benefits and perils of e-cigs — will tell. Even then, it’s hard to kick an addiction whether it’s alcohol, drugs, tobacco or e-cig use.

By Suzanne Kane

Posted on July 10th, 2015
Posted in Smoking

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