They look a bit like cans of deodorant, and the fragrances are similar too — at first. There’s rose and grape, morning dew and fruit cocktail. Then things start to get interesting.
“My favourite is apple pie, but the options range from liquorice to cognac, strawberry milkshake, paan — even Hyderabadi biryani and rasgulla,” says Jay Kapadia, 50, pointing to his vaping liquids. “No flavour is off limits.”
Vaping is the act of using an electronic cigarette or a mod. Most vapers are former smokers who made the switch to try and wean themselves off cigarettes and, eventually, nicotine.
Kapadia, for instance, has been vaping since 2013 – “the year before ‘vape’ was picked as Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. Before that, I had smoked four packs a day for 35 years,” he says.
Kapadia is also co-founder of the two-year-old Mumbai vapers’ club. Today, three of its members are seated at a rooftop table in a restobar in suburban Mumbai, and they are getting some strange looks as they sample,swap and vape from their cylindrical mods.
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“We don’t mind the looks,” says Kapadia. “Rooftop restaurants are one of the few safe places for vapers in Mumbai.”
The Mumbai vapers’ club meets weekly, with members travelling miles to exchange notes, share new discoveries and help newcomers find their way. Today, Asad Mirza, 35, who owns a courier company, and Jai Rawal, 39, a software developer, have travelled 15 km from the distant suburbs to be here.
There are similar clubs across India’s metros (See box : Trying to quit?), where fans and collectors of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) meet for advice and moral support, and to help newcomers find the best gear and stay off cigarettes.
“At vape meetups, there’s advocacy talk and gear talk. We compare mods and support one another. The network will get gears and juices to someone has run out, for instance, so they won’t have a smoke instead,” says Sanchayan Chaudhary, 42, a freelance content creator.
Together, the clubs make up an informal network that allows members to get help and advice even in a strange city, call each other if they crave a smoke, get encouragement and stay on the wagon. Most members have two things in common: disdain for cigarettes, and passion for high-end vaping ‘mods’ and gear.
“I’m not wasting money on stinkies,” says Rawal, 39, who fancies himself a cloud chaser. Rawal used to smoke up to five cigarettes a day until seven months ago. Incidentally, cigarettes are also derisively called ‘analogs’, and a cloud chaser is a vaper who tinkers with his gear to produce large vapour clouds.
Juices are integral to the experience, says Kapadia.
With 20 mods and 120 juices, Kapadia claims to have the largest vape collection in India. Today, it’s largely his gear on display. “These two are for beginners,” he says, pointing to two slender canisters. “They are more affordable and offer a strong nicotine hit but you can still use different flavours and experiment.”
On the table are 13 other mods, each one bigger and more complex-looking. One is modelled after a machine gun cylinder, says Kapadia, pointing to a mod that looks like it would feel more at home at NASA.
“I switched to vaping because most cigarette brands give you no choice other than 12 mg or 18 mg. Vaping is cleaner, with none of the tar and toxins, and you can decrease nicotine dependency, with some mods going as low as 3 mg,” Kapadia says.
Some mods also have a ‘puff counter’ that lets you alter wattage and voltage to change the vapour output of the mod, says Mirza, who switched from chewing tobacco to vaping a year ago.
“I kicked the butt in 2012 but got addicted to gutkha, sometimes four packets in an hour. My jaws would hurt,” says the 35-year-old. “I then tried nicotine gum, but that wasn’t helping at all. The nicotine dose was too low and I still craved cigarettes and gutkha.”
A UK-based cousin inspired Mirza to go ‘digital’.
“I have two daughters and I no longer have to worry about second-hand smoking, or the smell,” he says. “In fact, juices smell really good.”
The trio, along with vapers from other Indian cities, are in the process of forming an advocacy group, The Association of Vapers India (AVI).
“Our aim is threefold: to create awareness about ENDS, meet government representatives to discuss fair vaping regulations, and defend our right to lead healthier lives,” Chaudhary explains.