By Corey Noles
The St. Louis‑region, home to more than 100 vapor shops, countless e‑liquid manufacturers and two major distributors, has long had one glaring absence – the city has never hosted an expo. Finally, in January 2016, that absence was filled.
In 2015, John Huck, owner of E‑Cig Mania’s brick‑and‑mortar shops as well as e‑liquid line Baker Vapor, Firehouse Premium E‑Juice and Atomic Premium Vapor, started a discussion among some local shop owners about the possibility of a St. Louis vapor convention. The idea was tossed around for a while, and then Huck decided the time had come to make it happen.
He began looking into potential locations and ran into the typical roadblocks – places were either too small or wouldn’t allow indoor vaping at the event. Putting together a national caliber expo is no easy task – as Huck learned quickly.
“I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it’s a full‑time job in itself,” he said. “Getting manufacturers and distributors to come for a first time expo isn’t always easy. I’m very pleased with the crowd we brought in.”
With 3D Vapor, Pinup Vapors, Cloud Chasers International and VAPE Magazine all headquartered in the St. Louis‑region, Huck managed to sign all of them on as sponsors. A solid list of well more than 100 vendors included Mod Fuel, Vaperz Cloud, Fogwind, HexOhm, Daily Dose, Premier Liquids, Elevape, Villain Vapors, Beard Vape Co., Boosted and dozens more.
Huck said the event, which saw at least 6,000 through the turnstiles on Saturday, was long overdue.
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“St. Louis deserves its own event,” Huck said. “With so many manufacturers, store owners and such a busy vape community, they deserved it. I wanted people outside of the region to see what’s happening here.”
While exposure for local businesses and manufacturers is a key element to any convention, Huck said spurring advocacy among the vaping masses was very important to him.
“With an industry under attack, we need more people aware of what’s happening and ready to fight for their right to vape,” he said. Huck, with the help of A.J. Moll, vice president of media relations for the Bistate Regional Advocates for Vaping Education (BRAVE), a solid advocacy panel was on hand to answer questions and speak about the state of the vaping industry.
On the panel was Greg Conley, President of the American Vaping Association (AVA); Stefan Didak, founder and president of notblowingsmoke.org; and Julie Woessner, executive director of Consumer Advocates for Smoke‑free Alternatives Association (CASAA).
In addition to the federal advocacy portion of the event, the event was also used as an opportunity to highlight the newly
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formed Missouri chapter of the Smoke‑Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA). The group, which recently raised $15,000 to hire its own state lobbyist, operated a booth explaining some of the fights ahead to vapers and also helped them register to vote. Members, activists and shop owners operated the booth.
Huck said he considers the event a resounding success from all angles – enough so that he is already in the process of planning the sequel. He declined to share the dates or venue, as the final contract and approval is still pending.
“Rest assured, we’re doing it again,” he said. “Sooner rather than later.”
Corey Noles is a writer for VAPE Magazine and owner of Inked Up E-Liquid Co. He has worked as a journalist for 12 years covering business, professional sports, crime and politics.