Dark Clouds on E-Cigs' Horizon

Dark Clouds  on E-Cigs' Horizon

The woman behind the curtain is busy today. She has too many orders to fill. Bottles of chemicals surround her as she leans over a small table and mixes a little from one and then another to create a "house blend" recipe while customers linger in the front room of her and her husband's vape shop in Arlington.

A couple of young guys wearing black concert T-shirts and blue jeans, another with a shirt promoting American Eagle, stand near an island with hundreds of bottles of flavor samples. Drawing clouds of thick, smoky vapor from hand-held devices made of polished chrome, glass and LED lights, they look as if they're puffing Jedi light sabers instead of personal vaporizers, a fancified kind of electronic cigarette that uses nicotine-laced "e-liquid" in place of burning tobacco.

"Can you blow smoke rings with it?" asks one, exhaling a blue-tinted cloud.

John Smith, owner of Rock ’n’ Roll Vapes in Arlington, buries himself behind a cloud of his product.
Mark Graham
John Smith, owner of Rock ’n’ Roll Vapes in Arlington, buries himself behind a cloud of his product.
Smith repairs a vaporizer for customer Tyler Lucas.
Mark Graham
Smith repairs a vaporizer for customer Tyler Lucas.

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"I can do a tornado with it before I can do rings," says John Smith, the shop owner. He takes a deep drag from his titanium-plated personal vaporizer, or "vape pen," leans over a black folder listing his shop's more than 600 flavors and exhales a cloud that spins for a second or two before disappearing.

Mods, gearhead, grindpunks, dual coils for some, saturating for others — their lingo sounds like something you'd hear at a motorcycle shop with Ozzy Osbourne's "Shot in the Dark" playing in the background.

Behind the curtain, Melanie Smith doesn't wear a lab coat or protective covering over her clothes, shoes or blonde hair. But she does wear rubber gloves as she uses syringes to create popular flavors like "Stormy Weather," "Suicidal Zombie" and "Grandma's Backyard."

She's known as a "mixologist," and she's one of more than five dozen working in vape shops across North Texas. Her "lab" is in the backroom of Rock 'n' Roll Vapes, a shop she and her husband opened about a year ago in Arlington. It's one of the many e-cigarette shops that seemingly appeared overnight. Good Vapes in Dallas, Vape Lounge in Carrollton and Vape 'N' Vapors in Denton have sprouted up since 2009, offering customized e-liquid, or "house blend" or "house juice," with monikers like "Andy's Mint," "Alice Cooper" and "Midnight."

With no oversight from the federal government or local health departments, it's like the Wild West days in the vaping business, with more and more backroom mixers brewing products that satisfied customers swear is a safe, effective way to kick tobacco. Scientists and regulators, however, have not yet weighed in on vaping's long-term safety, but that's coming, and the small business owners are worried.

Each shop has a different "trade secret formula" made from a mix of basic ingredients spiced with flavorings and scents. There are no directions to follow; the most popular recipes are created through trial and error.

"It's simple math," Smith says. "It was literally just figuring it out by combining mixes and vaping it." He takes several long draws from his vaporizer. "Our most popular flavor — Suicidal Zombie — takes a lot of different flavoring."

Located just off Green Oaks Boulevard, Rock 'n' Roll Vapes offers a wide selection of personal vaporizers, vape kits and vaping e-liquid, all Rock 'n' Roll themed with names like "Blacktooth," "Subway to Venus" and "The Red Door," and all mixed in the backroom of the shop from a blend of chemicals ordered online.

Mixologists start with food additives — propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, which create a smoke-like cloud of vapor when heated by a battery-powered element in a vaping pen. Added to the PG or VG are nicotine and a range of scents and flavorings to create a smoking substitute that fans say creates the sensation of smoking without the nasty, carcinogenic byproducts of burning tobacco.

Still, the ingredients mixologists use were not made to be vaporized. Too much nicotine is toxic, and the wrong amount of the food additives can make a user sick. It takes concentration to mix these ingredients correctly, and that can be hard to find when some vape shop owners' mixing stations are in the same area as the office or bathroom, or on a workbench filled with broken vape pens and mechanical parts.

Like many other shop owners, Smith quit smoking because of vaping, soon realized the benefits it could offer smokers, and saw the growing demand for vape shops in the area. So he traded his livelihood as an electrician and opened Rock 'n' Roll Vapes, about the same time Frisco was ordering e-cigarette users to the smoking section and Watauga was banning the sale of e-cigarettes. (E-cigarettes are designed to look vaguely like cigarettes; they're most often disposable. Personal vaporizers range from pen-sized to behemoths with large, rechargeable battery packs and refillable tanks to hold "juice." They also come with an array of colors, designs and accessories to dress them up.)

"The biggest mistake that ever happened was calling them electronic cigarettes," Smith says.

Vaporizers have become something more than just a product for people to use to quit smoking. People who've never smoked a cigarette are vaping, and they're gathering at vaping conventions, in lounge areas of vape shops and at local parks. It's become a social experience.

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My Voice Nation Help

Interesting that you quoted Dr. Richard Carmona, the Chief Lobbyist for an E-cig manufacturer. That's a person who is slightly biased. Anything that heats and vaporizes multiple chemicals can not be healthy.

And no haters, I do not drink, smoke or do drugs-legal or illegal. Those activities are for weak people. 

Sarah O'
Sarah O'

Oil well fracking, which, if you haven't heard the rumor, is accused of affecting us on a global scale, is largely "self-regulated", but jee golly, we can't have these dirty hippies regulating themselves. I am all for actually finding out (from studies which AREN'T funded by Phillip Morris) what harm really comes from vaping, but the irony here isn't lost.


The desire to regulate overwhelms any evidence that this is a huge non-problem.

If a backroom mixer produces bad product they will lose out to a quality operation. If there is to be any regs making them do their thing in the open like waffle house will provide 90pct of the benefit with 5pct of the effort expense and unintended consequences

ScottsMerkin topcommenter

Thank god I quit smoking 8 months ago and have never felt better.  Didn't even go the vape route.  Just took a 4 day trip to visit fam, didnt smoke the whole trip because I was sick and then never picked another one up.  

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

The FDA needs to regulate TOBACCO CIGARETTES before they attack electronic vaporizers which compete with BigTobacco Cancer Mongers.


Just want to clarify one small error, we do not and have not carried any eLiquid lines other than our own at Rock n Roll Vapes. Sorry Pip...I do like your stuff though  :)


"exhaling a blue-tinted cloud."....You understand that that's the lighting of the room, or your poor eyesight, right?