HERNDON, Va. —
Vapers line up to admire the craftsmanship. They buy discounted vials and fly through plastic mouthpieces while trying flavors. They fondle a range of mods and accessories such as colored screw-on bands that say "Vapestrong." They gab and exhale majestic billows of vapor at round tables piled high with merchandise, cans of Miller Lite and glass pints of Blue Moon from the bar in the lobby.
This bit of revelry and commerce is part of building the e-cigarette industry from the ground up, drag by drag, small business by small business. Vapers are fighting legislative battles as states try to figure out how to restrict, tax or otherwise regulate vaping, which is often coupled by lawmakers with regular tobacco cigarettes. Vapers credit vaping for getting them off traditional cigarettes, often overnight and cold turkey, but vendors are cautioned from touting the health benefits, which are in dispute.
"You're not saving anyone's life," says Cynthia Cabrera of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association during a "legal and political education" breakout session for festgoers. "You're selling a lifestyle product."
The lifestyle, though, exists because of its divorce from traditional cigarettes, which are proven killers. The secretary of the National Vapers Club, who goes by the name Malicedoll, is standing on the periphery of Vapefest as dinnertime approaches. She's wearing a bodice and a cascading hairfall made of black and white yarn. Malicedoll is a licensed embalmer from Phoenix, and she also has fangs (via minor cosmetic dental surgery).
She's vaping lemonade ice from a mod with a case featuring cast members of the CW show "Supernatural." Beefcake the Mighty has taken his place on the opposite end of the ballroom and is signing mods and posters.
What does she see when she looks around Vapefest, besides the haze, of course, and a delightfully odd and diverse occasion?
"People who want to live," Malicedoll says, shrugging. "People who don't want to die."