For almost exactly a year now, I've wanted an e-cigar. I've thought of a multitude of other things during that time span, but almost certainly no thing as much as an electronic, nicotine-atomizing cigar, the preeminent thing that, I'll tell my grandchildren, shows I "actually did live in the future."
That's a fistful of awesome right there
A year ago, I stumbled across a friendly rep for a Chinese company specializing in e-cigarettes and other vaping products. At the time, e-cigs weren't as popular as they are now, and the guy was one of the only vendors selling e-cig products at CES. Not only that, but his company, Kelvin Health, was on the bleeding edge of e-cig form factors. They had an e-cigar.
I wasn't able to purchase one then, and I've not found one since. Today, I went back to the same far-flung corner of the conference, the crowded Land of iPhone Cases and Backup Batteries, in search of Kelvin Health. I didn't find it, but I did find another e-cig purveyor, First Union. Despite appearing at first glance to be a bank, First Union, on closer inspection, had e-cigars on display. And holy hell, did they look glorious.
Feast thine eyes on the glory of the future
My colleague Brian Merchant, sensing my slack-jawed muteness at having finally found the El Dorado of tobacco replacement, asked if he could try one of the cigar models out. Following a bit of questioning about how many people had already tried the open display model, which sat amidst the detritus of negotiations with an actual product buyer, and after a fair bit of gesticulating that left no party sure if taking such a fine piece of machinery for a test drive was actually okay, Brian took a drag, one of 1800 puffs the box advertised the e-cigar had in it.
When our rep didn't protest, he handed the cigar off to me. Oh boy. I had Arrived.
We asked if we could buy one of the cigars outright. The rep seemed a bit confused; I presume most people who swing her way are looking to buy by the thousands. But she said that'd be fine. How much would this glorious device, an object that I see as my first step to blimp ownership, cost? Five dollars, she said. I only had a $20, and she had no change. So we bought another cigar model (1500 puffs), a cigarillo (1000 puffs), and a pink e-cig (comparable to a whole pack). The whole package rang up to $17. We called 20 good and went on our way.
Flavor Country is truly the land of plenty
The box promises full-flavored satisfaction despite having no odors, and damn it if I'm not smoking this e-cigar in my hotel room, which reeks of decades of smoke and filth despite the signs warning of $250 fines for tobacco use. I feel like a .GIF of someone ironing a $100 bill over and over, and that's a pretty bitchin' situation to be in.
Based on last year's experience, I thought my find at First Union would be my only dalliance with electronic cigars. But as it turns out, the e-cig game is fucking out of control right now.
I saw at least a dozen e-cig vendors, largely hocking wares direct from Chinese and Taiwanese factories. The sheer variety of styles is stunning.
You've got your pipes.
And your refillable vortex wands.
There are the orbs.
And then there's the shit that makes you realize that competition in the e-cig world has reached such an unbelievable mental state that people are throwing a refillable pen inside of a box with Cholo Jesus on it and charging 40 bones a pop. Brian asked the vendor what the deal with the Jesus piece is, and he said he wasn't sure, he just gets them from Taiwan.
Update: A helpful reader tells me that Grenco Science actually made a custom G Pen for The Game and his Jesus Piece album, and the Jesus art is of course from the album cover, which makes a lot more sense. I'm pretty sure the model above is a knock-off though, as The Game's model has gold details, not silver.
While the pens in various colors appeared to be the most standard design for vendors, a few are clearly aiming at the upscale market. This pipe, for example, comes with all the gear you need for a long life of rechargeable smoking, all in a nicely padded wooden box.
And then there's this contraption, which appeared to me like it would be the preferred smoke of that pharaoh dude from Stargate. It naturally comes in its own metal case like a handgun. Can we just stop for a second and imagine how completely batshit insane the guy is who takes this case into a club, opens it up on a table, and assembles his gold scepter for a smoking ban-flouting rip of that good old-time nicotine? And yet you know not a single person would leave the room not awed.
I asked a rep from this company if they had a catalog or any materials, and she responded by ignoring me and instead asking if I was a photographer, which I assumed was apparent by my holding an enormous ego-crutch of a camera while snapping away at her products. That's to say that it took me a while to figure out the name of the firm. ECool. Could it be anything else?
It's immensely frustrating shooting photos at a major conference like CES, as you'll never get a shot that's not compromised by having to deal with all the other people milling about. Usually, when there's a group in front of a booth, I'll just wait politely for a few minutes, and eventually they'll either move on or get weirded out by my hovering and scurry away.
But what was fascinating about the above booth—which featured refillable e-cigs, a wide variety of flavored inserts, and a wax-burning pen called the BURNER that was about 2.5 inches away from being covered in pot leaves and blasting a reggae horn sound effect when you hit it—is that the trio of gentlemen speaking to the rep spent at least 20 minutes discussing and testing various flavor combos, during which she played the sommelier role perfectly. Not even the legions of middle-aged men drooling over giant TVs and saying "curved OH-led" over and over were as engaged as that.
The last booth I came across was also the largest, and had its own lounge for anyone 21 and over. They didn't have any e-cigars—I'm assuming they're too corporate to handle such a renegade piece of tech—but it's incredible that a product that can comfortably be displayed in all its glory on just a small table was treated to a straight-up CES cathedral. That's the world we've built, one in which our thirst for nicotine freedom, and a variety of form factors to match our own individuality, has turned e-cigs into serious business. And I, e-cigar in hand, am more than happy that's the future we're living in.