Before Vaping was “Cool.”
There’s a framed pack of cigarettes in Steve Milin’s office that kind of resembles a fire alarm. Below the half-full pack, the text reads, “In the case of emergency, do NOT break the glass.” The Illinois native smoked for 40 years, but to say he “smoked” is really kind of an understatement. Milin consumed cigarettes almost faster than they could burn, leading to a five pack daily habit, asthma, and COPD. To put it mildly, Steve Milin was a smoker. He’s not a smoker anymore. Steve is a vaper, but he’s not the type of vaper you’re likely to see portrayed in the media. Milin isn’t covered with tattoos and piercings, and he’s not in his 20s. In fact, he’s been vaping since long before vaping was “cool.” Milin tried his first e-cigarette back in 2008 when Chicago banned smoking indoors. Instead of missing part of the game he was watching, he tried out an e-cig. It changed his life, so he set out to change the lives of others by starting his e-cigarette company, Vapor4Life, because he found the products at the time were not enough to satisfy a serious smoker like him. Milin then dedicated his time to designing products that would do the trick for smokers.
It’s been eight years since Steve Milin started Vapor4Life. When he started out, there were no giant box mods, no shopping mall vape shops, no scathing mass media articles that criminalized vaping. Former smokers helped one another out in online e-cigarette forums, where Steve developed a close-knit family. Milin would make personal deliveries of e liquid to customers or invite them to his home. In the past few years, a new subculture has emerged that’s changed the image of vaping dramatically since it took off in the United States. Now, when a news organization does a piece on vaping, they use an image of a 20-something white male with a giant beard blowing massive clouds of smoke. Yes, those vapers are a big part of the community, and they’re not to be discounted, but the face of vaping is much more diverse than the way it’s depicted in the media, which has forgotten about the real reason many people started vaping in the first place.
This subculture has changed the e-cigarette community as its technological landscape has changed. Less than a decade ago, there were a handful of vape companies in the United States and vapers had limited options. Now, you can drive through any small town and find brick and mortar vape shops. The internet is populated with e-cigarette companies selling hot new products: trendy vape mods that let you adjust the temperature and wattage and change the coils to tweak the size of the clouds you exhale.
The problem is that these products, which seem to have inundated the industry, don’t offer a way to help smokers find a satisfying alternative to cigarettes. They don’t look or feel like cigarettes, and they don’t give smokers the sensation of
puffing on a cig. That was the whole point of why e-cigarettes were developed in the first place, and why Milin made it his passion to perfect his products. These days, vaping has become a trend that’s seen as something cool —or uncool— depending on who’s talking about it. While it’s great to have more people advocating for the vaping industry, it’s tough for former smokers who want vaping to be taken seriously as an alternative to smoking. The media, Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and the government have all jumped on the idea that vaping is a trend for teens and tattooed 20-somethings, and they forget to see the bigger picture: The picture of thousands upon thousands of former smokers who might be able to live a little longer, to spend a little more time with their kids, grandkids, and their spouse thanks to vaping.