By Alyssa Stahr Photos by Christopher Mikovits
Cheryl Richter started vaping in 2009 after being introduced to the world by a friend of her family. It took her a couple of months to think that it wasn’t a gimmick. Once she tried it herself, however, she was absolutely amazed. She bought an e -cigarette for herself as a birthday gift and never smoked another cigarette again.
Her business partner Chris went through the same experience at the same time, so they decided to start Cherry Vape, an e -cigarette vape shop and lounge in Westchester County, N.Y., as a way to help friends and family quit smoking. But, they didn’t stop with a brick and mortar. Chris and Cheryl have worked tirelessly for vapers’ rights, testifying at hearings, meeting with federal legislators and becoming founding members of the New York chapter of SFATA. Additionally, Richter is a board member for the National Vapers Club (NVC), whose humble beginnings have grown into a semi -annual event called Vapefest. Vapefest’s main focus is to raise money for e -cigarette research and advocacy.
Richter said that it’s miraculous that she quit smoking overnight after 32 years as a smoker. She started going to NVC meets when they were local to Long Island back in 2009- 2010, getting more involved in planning. NVC started as a local Long Island meet, and the woman who was running it at the time, along with others, had hopes to take the club national. Around the same time, there was a proposed indoor ban happening in Long Island. The club wanted to take that moment as an opportunity to raise money for research.
“It was real grassroots,” Richter said. “The money from the first national Vapefest went to that. I wasn’t really involved in that yet, but the money that was raised from that one and then subsequent Vapefests went to fund the Indoor Air Quality research report.”
The Indoor Vapor Air Quality Study (IVAQS.com) research report was one of the first published, peer -reviewed studies that proved that second- hand vapor was not harmful to the vaper or the bystander. From that point forward, all of the funds collected at Vapefest go to advocacy work or research study funding, a tall order fulfilled from a once -smaller, Long Island -based club. When the club was happening in Long Island, it really was just meets, according to Richter, who now vapes an Eleaf 30 watt with a Nautilus Mini. When the first official Vapefest launched in Virginia, booth space was sold to vendors to raise money for research.
“They wanted kind of a halfway point to have a meet, and I think the idea of doing it as a fundraiser to fund the research really made it a viable thing to do,” Richter said. “Back in those days, there weren’t really any other vape meets. Now there’s one across the country every weekend.”
What hasn’t changed is that NVC and now Vapefest is still an atmosphere for friends to get together and for people to come in to start friendly conversations among vapers. Vapefest is now held in the fall and the spring. Spring Vapefest is held in Las Vegas, while the fall fest takes place somewhere on the East Coast.
“We do try to limit the number of vendors per show, because we don’t want it to turn into some kind of an expo. We want the vendors to have an opportunity to actually make some sales. We haven’t went to a convention center on purpose; we keep it to hotels and a family type of atmosphere,” Richter said.
The next scheduled Vapefest was held in late September in Miami. As of press time, the Miami show was what the NVC was really focused on, and then the crew will turn right around and focus on Vegas in March. Richter predicted a laid back, Florida atmosphere on the beach in Miami.
“A lot of people say their best memories are made at Vapefest, and this time it’s on the beach. We’re taking advantage of the Miami atmosphere. Of course, we have a lot of traditions also. We’re trying to get Zen as our auctioneer this year; he’s hilarious. We have our infamous Vapefest karaoke. It’s the best karaoke ever. Whether you’re good or you suck, people love it and applaud it. Everybody is really up and involved. It’s pretty hilarious. That’s a tradition going way back.”
Additionally, throughout the year, board members, who consist of Chelle Schlake, president; David Kapple, vice president; and Richter, financial secretary, work tirelessly on advocacy efforts when Vapefest isn’t happening. The board testifies at hearings, alerts people about upcoming events and assists on letters that vapers should be writing to their legislators. The board always is looking for volunteers to help out fighting the good fight.
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“One thing we started doing last year is, after the legislative sessions close across the states, we put together a list of all of the legislators, and if they voted on an issue, e -cigarette bill or if they sponsored a bill, we let people know,” Richter said.
Working closely with SFATA and The Vaping Militia, NVC has a software system in place where you can look up your representative and how he or she voted on a bill, or if he or she sponsored the bill.
“A lot of vapers … this is an extremely important issue for them,” Richter said. “Some have never voted before, and they don’t want these people telling them what to do. We’ll be doing that again this year, even though 2016 is the really big election.”
If Richter could speak to individual vapers about advocacy, the one thing she would say is that once your rights are taken away from you, then you start to care. In Westchester County, where Cherry Vape is located, she tried to get everyone to come and testify on a recent proposed indoor ban, and people were just not interested.
“The shop owners in Westchester met face- to- face, and a couple of vapers came out. We could’ve used so many more people,” she said. “Sure enough, it passed unanimously, and now when I tell people they’re not allowed to vape indoors, they’re shocked. I had to contain myself from getting ticked off when the question came to me, ‘What can we do now?’ Now? Where were you a month ago? It became law.”
For people who are somewhat interested, Richter urges them to write a letter to his or her congressperson; even better, to meet with them, talk with them and educate them.
“When we get those wins, it’s because we have educated our legislators. It sounds so intimidating, but they’re just people. They’ve been fed some really massive untruths by the American Lung Association, which is everywhere by the way. They are introducing all these indoor air bans. They get into these legislators first. We need to get there first,” Richter said. “Support the companies that are doing the right thing, that are out there hiring lobbyists or members of SFATA that donate to The Vaping Militia and CASAA. There are plenty of companies that you can buy juice from. Ask them, ‘What are you doing for advocacy?’ Consumers have the ability to drive that with their wallets.”