Image: Steampunk mod from Vent69
By now you're probably seeing e-cigs for sale in convenience stories, kiosks, and wherever else a plexiglass display case might sit well next to a cash register. The "cigalikes" penetrating the mainstream market are meant to look similar to traditional tobacco cigarettes, presumably to ease the digital switchover. Normally they are disposable (you can't refill the liquid inside) and come in just one or two flavors, a vaguely tobaccoish taste. More often than not, they're products of big tobacco companies.
That's not an e-cigarette. Well it is, but it's a pretty lame one, relative to the zealous vape community and its multibillion dollar industry selling customizable mods and flavored liquids. These second and third generation vapes are refillable—so you can load it up with any flavor nic-juice you want, or even mix your own recipe—and customizable down to the homebrewed coil. Hence, it's called a mod.
DIY is at the core of vape culture (one of the reasons the proposed FDA regulations threaten to quash e-cig startups). Most of the e-cig components can be bought or homemade separately, so vapers can tweak a product and assemble a personalized mod. Devices run from high-end designs running you hundreds of dollars to a hacked-together Nintendo controller. They look (and often taste) nothing like analog smokes, and that's the point.
While cigalikes proliferate in the consumer market, the vape community lives online. The r/electronic-cigarette subreddit has a daily thread of vape pics where people show off their beloved mods; Instagram is commonly used for shopping around different designs and vendors when you're in the market for a piece; head to e-cig forums to discuss them in mind-numbing levels of detail; or YouTube for product reviews and tutorials.
When I chatted recently with Chris Chuang, owner of a new vape shop in Brooklyn, Beyond Vape, he told me users will spend hours watching a video tutorial to make their own coils, and customize their handcrafted, made-in-the-USA piece with an organic cotton wick for a thicker cloud of vapor. Fans shine up and show off and care for their mods like you would a new car, he said. E-juice companies create flavor recipes like a mixologist would craft the perfect blend for a cocktail.
Here are the basic different components that make up an electronic cig:
Battery: rechargeable, voltage and wattage are adjustable
Microprocesser/sensor—controls the LED indicator light; sensor tells the processor when user takes a drag to switch on the heater
Cartridge or tank—holds the e-juice, refillable
Atomizer—heats up the liquid and vaporizes it, customizable coil
Drip tip—the thing you suck on. Comes in glass, metal, various materials and shapes (like a turtle, below).
Turtle vaping tip. Image: Pinterest
With that in mind, here's a sampling of sweet mods I found on the internet. A lot of these are DIY modified e-cigs; some are original designs from vendors.
From a cursory Google search:
Real wood box mod. Image: Ali'i
Steampunk mod from Vent69
From the Pinterest badass e-cigs mods page, basically a lot of steampunk:
From a pitch from Enjoy in Shenzhen:
From Reddit's daily vape pics thread:
OKR mod. Image: Reddit
From Instagram, where vapers show off their devices:
If you have other, sicker mods to share, by all means leave a link in the comments or shoot me an email.