Words and photos by Nick Bessette
A few days prior to this event I was primed on what to expect at VaperCon. I was under the impression that this was the place for the “crotchety veteran vaper,” meaning the folks who have been around since the early days of vaping who stay true to their roots. I wasn’t sure if I would fit in seeing as how I mainly use mechanical mods nowadays, however I was excited for a new experience. After driving down roughly 10 hours from my home in Massachusetts, the atmosphere on the night before the event was extremely positive with many attendees staying at the hotel coming from across the country including places like Texas, Illinois and New Jersey. People were enjoying libations and mingling outside the bar area in an almost ritualistic fashion, and the sense of community was in the air. As the night went on several more people gathered as they got in from the airport or weary from the road. I could already tell this event would be like no other I’ve ever attended.
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For the fifth year running, Luciano Manente and the Vape TV crew have put on VaperCon East at the Clarion hotel in Richmond, Va. It seemed like the entire hotel was occupied by vapers, and the hotel catered to vapers’ needs even putting out free breakfast and an all-you-can-eat taco bar! As attendee Kathy McCarty said, “The hotel pretty much lets us run the place for the weekend … no hassles at all.” The local eatery and VaperCon hotspot was Kitchen 64 across the street from the Clarion, which offered a vape-friendly outdoor “patio” section, which was frequented by convention attendees. One thing that stood out to me as different was the lack of fire alarms being set off, granted it did happen, but only once as far as this reporter knows. It seemed like everyone that attends this event has a mutual respect for the hotel and its staff as they have welcomed the event back year after year without issue.
The doors opened on the first day; I walked around and glanced at the vendors’ wares. Within about half an hour I had seen the entirety of the selection they had to offer. A few of the standout vendors were The 52 Juice, a new project from Flavors United in glass bottles with premium flavors like Cooler, which is a kiwi, strawberry and mango punch flavor, and Bottom Deal, which tastes like banana pancakes with whipped cream and cinnamon, as well as Reverb, which is Mister-E-Liquids’ drip line. Their booth was bumping the entire show, especially because they were the only ones playing music, however it wasn’t cranked to the max like other vendors at the bigger events. My voice was spared, as there was merely a dull roar within the room itself. Alex from The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) was at the main table outside the entrance, and right next to him was The Vaping Militia’s booth where Robin, Fred and Joe were selling raffle tickets, merch and signing people up for the cause.
As far as conventions go, this one was on the smaller size but to some that can be a good thing. When asked what drew him to VaperCon compared to other conventions Ahmed Lakhaney (Plumes of Hazard) said, “The people, the size. The ones that draw the large crowds are more trade showish. Many of the people I met in the local scene in New York helped pioneer the industry from the east coast. They all go to VaperCon. I pick my cons based on the company most times, and after hours at a Vape TV event is always a good time.”
With people traveling across the country just to be at this event, it’s no surprise you find many attendees that have been to more than one VaperCon like Lisa Adams from North Carolina: “This was my fifth VaperCon. It has always been my favorite vaping event.” Kathy McCarty from Texas said, “I come up every year. The first year I rode the Greyhound bus 26 hours each way just to be here, and I would do it again in a heartbeat if I wasn’t able to fly.”
So if you couldn’t tell, people are very dedicated to this event but my question was, why? “The vaping community has somewhat splintered in recent years, VaperCon has become more of a magnet for those that we refer to as ‘veteran vapers.’ This has resulted in more of a concentrated, community- oriented event,” Jay DeLuco of Massachusetts said.
After the convention was over, all of the vendors and anyone else who wanted to stick around was invited to a costume contest with about a dozen contestants. The audience was encouraged to applaud their favorite competitor to win fabulous prizes. Following the contest was a scavenger hunt where teams had to find random objects all around the hotel. The party kept going into the night, and one by one people departed back to their rooms to rest up for the journey home. Overall I’d have to say VaperCon was a small, albeit fun event even for a young gun like myself, and I do plan on attending next year.
A Billion Lives
Among the other vendors in the hall was a unique booth; it didn’t have any e-liquid samples or new hardware, only a few banners and a TV playing the trailer to an upcoming film called A Billion Lives. The film is about the injustice of the United States government and Big Business impacting the vaping industry. They have been filming for this documentary since Vape Bash in April, traveling the world to discover the roots of the tobacco plant and follow it all the way up through history up until the present day. The production company behind this film, Attention Era Media based out of Milwaukee, Wis., has created commercials for major companies like Applebee’s and covered sports events and much more. When asked about the budget of the project, producer Jesse Hieb said, “In the five digits. We are entirely self-funded on this project; we didn’t take any money from outside sources for this film. We decided to make this film as a business decision because we felt lied to.” With the application already sent in to the Sundance Film Festival, expect a late January launch if it gets picked up but if not, it will be out on Netflix and all major streaming sites in March of 2016.
VaperCon East Quotables
Jeannie Kerswill (The Jeannie K Show) – “It was an amazing event as it always is. I love that it is about the people first. Free stuff is not the driving force that gets people to attend. There are no cloud comps, body paint and the rest of the nonsense you see at the huge trade show type events. All of that is why I have never missed a VaperCon East and never will.”
Kathy McCarty – “It’s always been a place to just hang out and not about trying to buy the latest and greatest toy. I’ve met most of the people at VaperCon and have known a lot of them almost six years. So yeah, for sure a veteran vaper meet.”
Jay DeLuco – “As other conventions focus on the sales and marketing aspects of vaping, VaperCon has stayed true to its roots. As a result, it has become a relatively smaller event than it has been in the past. At the same time, it enables those of us who feel left out of the current wave of vape marketing to have a place to reunite with old friends and make new connections with like-minded vapers.”
Lisa Adams – “Attendance was down this year, which gave the vendors more time to spend with attendees, and that was great! VaperCon has always been more of a social event and not a trade show, which is what I prefer. I got to spend quality time with great friends and met new friends as well.”
Ahmed Lakhaney (Plumes of Hazard) – “It’s a meet more than a convention, and they’ve done with great job upholding that.”