He built a vape company because he wanted to help smokers quit. Health experts think that’s a really bad idea 

Chasing clouds

Page 5 of 5

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEN CRAY
  • Photo by Jen Cray

As of Aug. 28, Amendment 9 was still subject of the broader lawsuit, which has been transferred to a Tallahassee circuit court. Attorney General Pam Bondi's office is arguing that bundling ballot items for constitutional amendments is only off-limits for citizen initiatives, not for items that already had a public hearing with the state's Constitution Revision Commission.

Like shipwreck survivors, ex-smokers-turned-vapers stick together. Many can't stand the smell of cigarette smoke anymore or don't want to be tempted by it.

"It's much more than just blowing the big cloud," says Levi Crouch, 25, who recently moved to Orlando and started working for Kleizo. "You meet up with an amazing group of people. Everybody loves each other because we have the same goal and the same reason for being there. It's a goal to help each other."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEN CRAY
  • Photo by Jen Cray

Crouch started smoking in high school. Not long after graduating, a friend started vaping, so he decided to try it too.

"I noticed I wasn't breathing as well, couldn't run as well, so I decided to try vaping," Crouch says. "I didn't like the first one I tried, but I went to a vape shop where I lived in Northern Virginia and they recommended a better product. I haven't had a cigarette since. I felt better in the first few months. I was able to run up a flight of stairs again."

Crouch became a regular at vape shop events, and soon he started joining cloud competitions. He says he won $35,000 in prizes in 2015. Now in Orlando, Crouch is sponsored by Fast Eddie's, which holds its own competitions, complete with a wall mural that marks out a 15-foot length to help measure the clouds.

"It's just like a NASCAR driver. I wear a jersey that says 'Fast Eddie's.' I represent them," Crouch says.

Crouch says he doesn't ever want to be "that guy" – the vaper who blows a big cloud at a restaurant or near an unsuspecting passerby. He refuses to vape in any public place where smoking is banned.

"It's definitely a huge community, millions of people who all wanted to quit smoking cigarettes and found a way to do that without all the chemicals," he says.

He now helps Kleizo develop juice brands – including Taffy Splash, which comes in blue raspberry or strawberry flavor.

Like many former smokers, Crouch keeps a small amount of nicotine in his juice. He says he vapes most of the day, but not obsessively – not in the middle of the night, after eating or in the bathroom.

Given the hazy health facts and changing regulations, people who vape for the first time often have a lot of questions, says Jeremy Wilburn, who works for Kleizo at Fast Eddie's.

He helps sell dozens of styles of vape mods, e-cigarettes, juice, battery chargers and other accessories. "I was a smoker and I had tried to quit," Wilburn says. "I just thought vaping was more interesting."

But he was bewildered by the options. He tried an e-cigarette and didn't like it. He found answers and a higher-quality local product at Fast Eddie's.

"It's definitely a learning curve when you start. Now I help people avoid the same issues I encountered," he says.

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