article from http://www.newyorker.com
Vaping for Yuppies
Stoners used to be associated, sometimes accurately, with a particular image. They hung out in hazy basements in California, wore baggy clothes, spent their days watching dumb movies, and rolled joints with marijuana and tobacco. Occasionally, they used vaporizers, devices that could be as large as a flowerpot, to get high. While in use, the vaporizers made a humming sound and left behind an unmistakable skunky odor.
Now, though, many stoners use vaporizers that look as though they were designed in Cupertino. There are “vapes” that are small enough to fit in your pocket and that look more like mobile phones than vases. They emit discreetly scented plumes. The new wave of refined products—which can be used for smoking both tobacco and pot—seems tied to what many have described as society’s growing acceptance of marijuana: if enjoying cannabis is no longer a fringe activity, then it only makes sense for the means through which we consume it to evolve, too.
At the front of this new trend is the Pax by Ploom, a two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar vape, roughly the size of a candy bar, that weighs just over three ounces. Ploom officially makes tobacco products, but in the two years that it’s been on the market the Pax has amassed a dedicated fan base on cannabis forums, and has spawned its own verb. In photos and videos online, you find people who “pax” before work, during school, and on the road. The device comes in four metallic colors; the subtle “x”-shaped light that glows when the Pax is on has become an unofficial emblem of a classier, more mainstream, and perhaps even sanitized American pot culture. “Gone are the days of Birkenstocks and hacky sacks,” Jen Bernstein, the managing editor of High Times magazine, told me the other day, as she toyed with a Pax in her office. “It’s a statement—kind of an exclusive, high end, ‘I’m in the know’ product. You can be out on the golf course or at a chi-chi country club, and it doesn’t have the stigma attached to stoner culture.”
The Pax has competition: a similar portable vape called the Firefly, which retails for two hundred and seventy-nine dollars, looks (and feels) like a retro Motorola cell phone. If it elicits stares when you’re holding it, it’s because you look like you’ve time-travelled from the nineties. Another product, the Magic-Flight Launch Box, resembles a small metronome with a removable tube in its side and wouldn’t look out of place in a Restoration Hardware catalogue, with its polished cherry or walnut casing. it costs one hundred and nineteen to one hundred and forty-nine dollars, depending on the quality of the wood, and it comes with rechargeable batteries.
Like e-cigarettes, these vaping devices produce a visible, dense vapor. But instead of starting with a liquid or a concentrate, as e-cigs and other cannabis vapes do, the Pax, Firefly, and Magic-Flight Launch Box work by heating dry pot or tobacco in a small built-in “oven” that can reach temperatures of four hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Vaping gets you about as stoned as smoking a joint, but the new vapes are the aesthetic opposite of old-school stoner gear: their designers value clean lines, an optimal user experience, and subtle messaging over a funky look. “Our design philosophy is around simplicity,” James Monsees, the C.E.O. of Ploom, said in a phone interview. “The Pax is a luxury product—a premium, luxury vape experience.”
Regulations are changing, too. New rules proposed by the Food and Drug Administration in late April would require companies that sell tobacco products such as e-cigs, pipe tobacco, liquid nicotine, and hookahs to register with the F.D.A., add disclaimers to these products, and refrain from marketing to minors. The F.D.A. would not comment on specific products, so it’s unclear if and how the regulations would apply to vaping devices such as the Pax or the Firefly. The guidelines will also be reviewed before they are set in stone. An F.D.A. spokeswoman said that if an item is meant to be used to consume a tobacco product, as a hookah is, then it would be regulated. Ploom said that it expects further clarification about whether a stand-alone smoking device should be subject to the rules or not.
Mark Williams and Sasha Robinson, the inventors of the Firefly, also came to vape design by way of Silicon Valley: Williams worked at Apple and Robinson is a Microsoft alum. Like the Pax, the Firefly was originally conceived of as a counterpoint to tricked-out products like the Vapir, an old-school vaporizer that, in Robinson’s words, looks like “a plug-in electric alien sex toy.” They also view vaping as healthier than smoking. “I was turning forty, and I’m pretty athletic,” Robinson said. “When I’d smoke, I’d feel it in my lungs, my body. I’d try to exercise and feel crappy. Vaping was a way to lower the body load.” (When it comes to tobacco, e-cigarettes are widely viewed by consumers as healthier than smoking, though the science isn’t conclusive, as Sky Dylan-Robbins noted in a recent New Yorker video.)
Like Robinson, pot smokers often tout vapes as healthier. Alan Brochstein, who writes about marijuana stocks at 420investor.com, compared fancy loose-leaf vapes to the VitaMix, a blender that’s gained an obsessive following despite costing up to six hundred and fifty dollars. When I called him, Brochstein was blending almond milk, strawberries, bananas, parsnips, spinach, and broccolini into a smoothie. “To me, there’s a big parallel here,” he said, raising his voice over the din of the blender’s motor. “I paid, like, four hundred dollars for this thing a year and a half ago, and I did it for health reasons. It’s a yuppie toy, if you think about it.”
Jackson Haddad, who lives in the Bay Area and says he has been a regular pot smoker for more than a decade, sees the emergence of a mainstream vape culture and its high-end accoutrements as the commingling of two very Californian tendencies: tech savvy and hippie culture. “I was in a museum last week, hitting my vape, and a random older man looked over at me,” Haddad said. “And this happens all the time in this town. You can tell that they’re looking at you and embarrassed to ask to smoke it. I always share. It’s like Google Glass—everyone wants to give it a try.”