Saturday, 19 July 2014

'Per fumum': passive vaping - a surprisingly fragrant experience

The Lexington ~ Source:
In my previous housekeeping post I said that a 'normal' post would be along soon. I may have overplayed the normal aspect, but not to worry.

So last weekend I found myself in the curious position of having booked a train and a hotel to London to go and see a gig for which my friend and I had no tickets, owing to an early sell out some months previously. We were resigned to an evening of disconsolate loitering outside the Victorian pub where the gig was being held, when we got a lucky break an hour before the doors opened - a friend in one of the bands, The Would-be-goods, had managed to squeeze us both onto their guest list!  They shared the bill with The Clientele and Birdie, who appear to be the regrouped remnants of Saint-Etienne.

I enjoyed all three bands' sets, but an unexpected highlight was watching - and smelling - the cloud of smoke (or vapour, to be technically correct) that swirled around a man standing diagonally in front of me. He was nonchalantly brandishing and puffing on a 'portable vaporiser' (as opposed to a 'vaping stick', the simpler style of e-cigarette). It was the first time I had seen one of the ones that look a bit like a fountain pen and come with an illuminated tip, like the lantern room of a lighthouse. Actually, the array of devices is even more complicated than I suggest - there are about half a dozen types of e-cigarette, to wit: rechargeable electronic cigarettes, disposable electronic cigarettes, E-Go electronic cigarettes, personal vaporisers and electronic cigars.  The really fancy personal vaporisers may also be known as 'Advanced Personal Vaporisers' ('APVs'), of which I suspect the one I saw was an example.

The Would-be-goods 

And for anyone not familiar with the mechanics of vaping, it involves a battery-powered atomiser which vaporises a mixture of distilled water, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine and flavouring. Nicotine is addictive of course, but the manufacturers of e-cigarettes market their wares as safer alternatives to inhaling the myriad of toxins contained in conventional tobacco products. I have never been and don't plan to become a smoker, but for anyone interested in the health aspects of vaping versus tobacco smoking, here is the NHS take on this whole e-cig phenomenon.

Now I couldn't put my finger on what the vapour smelt of exactly - it was a fruity, slightly smoky scent, with a gourmand twist - maybe cherry - there was also a fluffy quality like a hint of a marshmallow note, but it was all tempered by a darker base of chocolate? Tobacco? Pass! All I can say is that it was not at all as synthetic as I would have expected - now I realised that these e-cigarettes are evidently flavoured - and that. I was happy to sniff it all night. Looking back, I may have got a bit of a collateral nicotine hit with that - ah well. Indeed, my further reading has uncovered a bit of a controversy over the etiquette of vaping in public places - even if it is legal to 'light up' wherever you like, not everyone may wish to inhale your vapour, whether on health grounds or because of a simple dislike of your chosen flavour, a bit like breathing over someone after you have eaten a highly spiced meal. So in principle, I am not sure if it is right that people should be able to vape in confined spaces like bars, but in my own particular case I enjoyed the experience!

The following week, while walking to the supermarket, I passed a shop-cum-'cafe'-cum-'smoking shelter' I had never noticed before: Colls Vapour Lounge. It was closed, but I peered in the window, which was covered in adverts for e-cigarettes and all the associated tackle. People would obviously go to such a place to buy their supplies and hang out with like-minded vapers in a comfy seating area. There were also drinks available, though to call it a full service 'cafe' might be stretching a point. But here was a lounge where vapers could congregate and not bother anyone - how very thoughtful!

Intrigued by the market gap that Colls Vapour Lounge had spotted, I rang them up a few days later, and chatted to the manager, Gez. I was especially curious to learn more about the range of different flavours available. I also asked which were the most popular. 'Strawberry and Sex on The Beach' he answered, quick as a flash. That's a flavour based on the cocktail, Sex on The Beach, I should perhaps clarify - not on the scent of marram grass, brine and gritty bits of sand in every bodily nook and cranny.

Then Gez proceeded to rattle off a whole clatter of other flavours of e-liquid (ie the juice you vaporise - my list may not be exhaustive!). These could broadly be grouped in a number of sub-categories:

Tobacco ie similar in aroma to the brands Tropical Gold,  Virginia and Benson & Hedges, as well as out-and-out cigar.

Menthol eg cherry

Fruits eg watermelon, blackcurrant, blueberry, elderflower, passionfruit etc.

Confectionery/desserts eg candyfloss, pecan pie, Love Hearts(!), pear drops, rhubarb & custard sweets, chocolate orange, mint chocolate, mint humbugs, marshmallow mocha.

Alcohol eg beer, whisky, rum


In another amusing twist (as noted earlier), one of the key components of an portable vaporiser is its atomiser, which brings us back to perfume again...But this aspect is also a semantic minefield. For the hardcore subset who might be curious, I will just point you in the direction of an article explaining the difference between 'atomisers', 'clearomisers' and 'cartomisers'....;)

Gez said there are some 200 flavours of e-liquid in all, plus people may mix them to create a custom vaping blend.  Then as I was googling 'mocha marshmallow', I came across The Flavorist Section of the Perfumer's Apprentice website, where customers can buy flavours for their own vaping concoctions. So there is another unexpected crossover between the worlds of smoking and perfumery! Actually, although nicotine features in his recipe, the commenter, Todd, says he is trying to wean himself off coffee. It confirms the popularity of mocha-caramel-marshmallow blends though.

So yes...'per fumum' - I bet the Egyptians didn't see this trend coming....? ;)


PS Oh...the keen-eyed reader may have clocked my stubborn refusal to use a 'z' instead of an 's' in '-iser' suffixes.throughout this post. 


Anonymous said...

Um... I think the Egyptians *did* see this coming -- it was they who are generally credited with perfecting the Persian hookah pipe, a method of vapourizing rather than burning tobacco. Generally the tobaccos (shisha) are honeyed or otherwise flavoured and there are non-tobacco versions too. Additionally there are shisha cafes (ie vapour lounges). Here in Vancouver where smoking is banned indoors they are fighting to stay in existence by arguing that there is no second-hand smoke generated.

Meanwhile e-cigarettes have become increasingly common and I have seen the occasional indoor "smoker".

-- Lindaloo

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

I stand corrected - thanks for providing the historical links between the hookah pipe and present day vaping. I guess the last part was a bit of a throwaway line, really. I just wanted to draw a contrast between the ancient tradition of burning incense to the gods with all the high tech paraphernalia associated with modern e-cigarettes.

Vanessa said...

PS In this part of the country I don't get the sense that e-cigs have really caught on yet. There are designated sections of pub beer gardens and the like for traditional smokers, who appear to be relegated to open air areas nowadays.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I can be pedantic :-)

E-cigs are sold everywhere here and don't need to be hidden behind the counters the way cigarettes have to be. Their popularity may be due to the fact that smoking is not permitted indoors here (except in one's own home, and there are rumblings about that when it comes to multi-family buildings) and there are severe limits outdoors too in terms of distance from doorways and air intakes.

Debate rages among Canadian health care professionals about whether e-cigs encourage teens to actually take up smoking, especially with all the sweet, fruity flavours.

I'm wondering if moving on to unflavoured cigarettes would be like eventually falling for the classic chypres. ;-)

-- Lindaloo

Unknown said...

Interesting post my dear,
As an ex smoker my opinion on the e-fags is really divided but it is just a different method of nicotine consumption. Lots of people used to wean themselves off with pipe smoking, which certainly smelled quite nice, but in the end of the day you either smoke or you don't. Giving it a new name and a new tool doesn't change that.

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

Nothing wrong with a bit of historical accuracy. ;) Interesting to learn how widespread your vaping culture is over in Canada. I can quite understand the authorities worrying about teens taking up smoking - that is similar to our debate about the effect of alcopops on youth drinking.

Love the analogy of unflavoured cigarettes being like classic chypres!

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

Good to get your take on all this. I guess I am not sure about what is supposed to be harmful. Reading the e-cigarette literature, they suggest it is the toxic compounds in conventional cigarettes that are carcinogenic, while nicotine itself is relatively benign. But I don't know enough about the subject to judge if that is correct, or simply more marketing spin.

Tara said...

I also found this really interesting V.

I had no idea they were flavoured. Do you think they are getting more taste than aroma from inhaling them, or the other way around? I would guess aroma because they're hittng the nose much more than the tongue.

I suppose vaping Chanel No.5 might not appeal though :)

Carol said...

I thought all Brits used 's' instead of 'z'?

Lots of vaping going on here - there is even a new little store

Asali said...

I was thinking along Tara's lines too. Vaping Shalimar, No 5 or more likely, Angel and Flowerbomb...
I have noticed the shops shooting up everywhere, not ever a smoker myself, I've been very puzzled by the idea that the e-cigarettes are so popular.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Yes, the flavouring aspect was a revelation to me! That's a good question about the taste/smell interface, and I don't rightly know - I had my mouth shut so like you I assumed I was just experiencing the scent through my nose. Though ENT things are all connected, aren't they?, so there may have been a bit of sensory crossover once the vapour got up my nose and dispersed down my passages. ;)

Vaping Chanel No 5 would make me sneeze I reckon!

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

I wouldn't say all - there's a bit of Americanization creep (the 'z' is deliberate) thanks increasingly to spellchecker programmes and whatnot. ;)

A vaping store in your small town? - I rest my case. We are a relative backwater over here in the e-cig stakes!

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

I don't think I am quite ready to vape perfumes, hehe, but the sensation of passive vaping of this e-liquid I encountered can't have been far off what it would be like to vape a fruity gourmand scent of some kind.

So Denmark is also getting into e-cigs too? - I think it might get quite big generally over time. And it probably is the relatively healthier option.

SallyM said...

Rhubarb & Custard ciggies! What a concept. I loved those sweets. Vaping is very common here in Portland - we seem to be determined to live up to our slogan "Keep Portland Weird!" There are a number of smoke shops/lounges for regular smoking so I won't be surprised to see a vape-loung spring up soon, if there isn't one already in the city. My close friend smokes the e-cigs but I'm not sure what flavor and if they smell as she usually still makes sure she is away from people when she puffs. I'm going to ask her the next time I see her what her deal is - now you've got my interest piqued.

And good for you on using the "s" not the "z" I have unrepentantly stuck to it and the ubiquitous U (coloUr, harbor etc) - even when I am in school (aiming to be the oldest person to graduate in the longest amount of time). I just tell the professors that my spell check is programmed to British English so suck it up ;-)

The Scented Hound said...

Ugggh, If you're going to smoke, go old school and do the real thing. The e-cig and vapor phenom is already so tired and I can see people trying to outdo each other with their paraphenalia and their funky vapor scents. Just my 2 cents :) Geez I sound cranky don't I??!

Undina said...

What cracks me up is that you actually talked to the Colls Vapour Lounge manager! You are unbelievable! : -)

Being against any type of tobacco consumption (unless it's a note in a perfume), if a scent is the only second-hand effect for bystanders - let them do what they want (and I'll be wearing my perfumes).

Vanessa said...

Hi SallyM,

I know - Rhubarb & Custard sounds a bit mad, though I love the sweets in question too. You can still get them here. I also liked rhubarb rock and apple tarts. I gather Portland is refreshingly weird, so vaping would fit right in I imagine! I expect you probably do have a vaping lounge there somewhere already. Do make inquiries about your friend's preferred flavours of e-juice - or better still, have a direct whiff of her vapour. ;)

Pleased to meet another national grammatical stickler - the lack of a 'u' in words like 'colour' I would find a bit disturbing, but I am hypersensitive to such variations.

Vanessa said...

Hi Steve,

Wow, I do live in the boondocks if the e-cig phenomenon is as good as over already where you live. I literally had never seen a 'personal vaporiser' until this occasion. Feel free to be cranky here anytime - we welcome people's frank opinions on things!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Ah, you know me - can't keep a researcher down...! Yes, it seems vaping is pretty harmless for bystanders as far as I can judge. And I am not giving up on my perfumes either any time soon - even for the allure of 'mocha marshmallow'. Actually, what am I talking about? - I don't like coffee. ;)

odiferess said...

I actually own one of these.

It's far inferior to a good old toot on a Golden Virginia roll-up but I do use it now again. The e-liquid shop is a bit like Les Senteurs for vapers. I'm currently chuffing on a mixture of licorice and vanilla in an attempt to do a kind of Caron Eau de Reglisse/Shalimar effect.

Though frankly, I'd rather have a fag whilst wearing Eau de Reglisse/Shalimar..

Vanessa said...

Hi Odiferess,

I was hoping you would drop in - good to get the view of a current (classic) smoker. LOL at your analogy between the e-liquid shop and Les Senteurs! And there you are actually vaping one of the many foody flavour combinations...;) Sounds like you are not convinced though, and prefer the real deal.

crikey said...

Wandering over having followed the link from your recent mention of passive vaping--please excuse me while I explore your archives-- because I've been thinking about the relationship between these and perfume.

Most of the ones I use seem to leave barely a wisp of smell behind, which is almost a shame given how nice they are. But, I can smell-taste them. And I've completely lost my taste for normal cigarettes now. I only planned to use these inside, but seem to have accidentally given up smoking entirely after, gosh, three decades?

There is a huge level of difference between the taste and the scent that other people get. Some, even highly-flavoured ones, barely smell at all on the outside (I've checked) while others leave a rather marvellous sillage. My husband uses one which smells delicious, mostly because it smells like my grandfather, with a combination of pipe tobacco, cardigan and potting shed (I think it's a cherry-tobacco-vanilla mixture), and one that I've had to ban him from using (it smells like burning carpet tiles).

Some really clash with particular perfumes. The parma violet e-liquid is rather good, but gets sent wonky by about two thirds of the scents I wear. The kendal mint cake (truly! it's almost a pefect match of not too minty-mint with a nice hint of brown sugar underneath) is robust enough, as is the plain coffee (though that does seem to mean I wear Yohji Homme far more than in the past)... By sampling a lot of flavours I've found an interesting overlap with my scent tastes--no fruit cocktails welcome, and nothing too sweet.

(oh, and the shops are *everywhere* in Edinburgh, but I've yet to find one in central Glasgow...)

Vanessa said...

Hi Crikey,

Thanks for wandering! I feel moved to say 'crikey' indeed, so impressed was I with the wealth of detail about vaping in your comment. It is great to get the opinion of an actual smoker. ;)

I only know one other person who has switched to vaping, and he too has mostly - but not entirely - given up normal fags after a lifetime of smoking them. I have yet to have the scent conversation with him though, or to get a whiff his wake, say!

Sounds like I lucked out with a 'marvellous sillage' number in London that time. The one your husband uses sounds remarkably like the scent I encountered, which I haltingly described as 'fruity, smoky, maybe cherry'. Burning carpet tiles I think I would like to give a miss - now that would be a health hazard!

I hadn't thought about potential clashes with perfumes worn at the same time, but it's a good point. I am not sure I could cope with the level of added complexity this involves - I get all in a tizz when somebody mentions the word 'layering'!

Why does that not suprise me that there are no vaping parlours in Glasgow...? If you are based in Edinburgh, I have a brother there whom I visit from time to time. Perhaps we could hook up - or hookah up? ;) - one day for a vaping sampling session (passive on my part, obviously)?

Oh, if you are browsing the archives, here are a few Scottish-themed posts...

The first stop on this one...

Sorry - that might have been overkill. ;)

crikey said...

"wealth of detail" is an awfully polite way of describing my verbose witterings, thank you!

And thanks for the links. A very pleasant way to spend a blustery sunday afternoon while I am in the blankets and box of tissues stage of a stinker of a cold. I am very much enjoying your blog. (I found out about that Monochrome Set gig at the Voodoo Rooms the day after it happened, and was gutted I'd missed it. Not seen them for donkey's years--back at the now to be much lamented 12 Bar Club. Just checked. Good lord, it was in 98.)

And please do give me a shout if you are up this way, for tea and sniffage. My proper name (from the URL) at gmail will always find me.

Vanessa said...

On the contrary, it was most informative! So sorry about your rotten cold, and am glad my blizzard of links is proving more of a pleasant distraction than not. You had me at the 'crikey', frankly, but to learn you are also a TMS fan is the icing on the cake! There is a select sub group in the blogosphere of perfumista fans of the band - um, I know of at least three, say ;) - but it is growing all the time as the truth of our extra mutual interest is uncovered.

Remarkably, you may have attended the very last UK gig of theirs before a long hiatus. I was at the next one - a one off reunion gig in 2008 - at a time when they never thought they'd ever properly reform. So if you ignore the small matter of the decade + in between, we might technically have been at *consecutive gigs* - what are the chances of that? ;)

Then the band come to Edinburgh every couple of years - and sometimes also Glasgow - so there is a good chance you could catch them locally. There will be another Bonkers band related post (or several!) coming along later in the spring. The blog is peppered with them I am afraid, either with 'on tour' or 'scent of the underground' in the title. For I do manage to shoehorn perfume into them somehow. Will definitely give you a shout on my next trip north. Your website has piqued my curiosity...!