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March 24, 2014

Vapefest: Where e-cigarette camaraderie is in the air — along with haze

(Continued)

HERNDON, Va. —

The smell here at the Dulles Hyatt on Friday afternoon, where roughly 1,000 people were expected to gather over two days, is sweet and pungent.

Now the look here is another story. The vapers at Vapefest look as if they're taking a smoke break — sorry, vape break — from a sci-fi convention or a Harley-Davidson ride. Some of them are clearly sporting scabs from skateboard accidents. Some of them are clearly wearing one of their half-dozen Men's Wearhouse suits. Some of them look like they belong at a Leesburg PTA meeting, or in Middle Earth, or the 1910s. One vendor here sells both "shire malt" and "Grandpa's cough medicine" e-liquids (or "juice"), the vials of flavored nicotine that are electronically vaporized when you suck on the mouthpiece of an e-cigarette, or "mod," as the vapers refer to the device.

Most of the mods look like sheathed light sabers. They're not the dainty penlike items you'd buy at a gas station. These are hand-held lithium-powered objects of sorcery that mimic the Pavlovian choreography of smoking: the hand-to-mouth movement, the "throat hit" and the, uh, suckle.

Under a tent near speakers that are playing AC/DC, Matt Wellman is vaping a Gandalf pipe made of spalted tamarind. It's handsome, shankless and claw-like. He fashioned it at Steam Cigs, his shop, vapers lounge and manufacturing base in Lawrenceville, Ga.

"It's a battery holder," he says of the pipe. "It's just a very pretty battery holder."

A former home remodeler, Wellman made his first e-pipe in December 2010 using his grandfather's pipe-smoker tools. His company, ePipeMods, has made 10,000 since, employs a dozen people and is estimated to do $1 million in business this year.

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