No Smoking

A t The White Buffalo, billowing plumes rise up from the bar and lounge, curling around a seemingly ironic “No Smoking” sign. But to staff and patrons, the sign isn’t all that ironic, because no one smokes at The White Buffalo.

They vape.

E-cigarettes and vaporizers are the newest, most technologically savvy way to puff nicotine. Up ’til the mid-2000s or so, if you wanted to smoke nicotine, you could choose cigarettes, cigars or various sorts of pipes. Since then, a whole new galaxy of different methods has formed: disposables, cig-a-likes, e-cigars, e-pipes, vape pens and countless customizable “mods.” Sammy Chamino’s favorite item is a sleek, finger-sized, smokable, sideways monolith called the Juul.

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Chamino, along with business partners Max Young and Sasha Zabar, founded The White Buffalo in 2014. And if the names of these three entrepreneurs sound at all familiar, it might be because they’re the trio behind The Juice Box, located further up Chapel Street.

Some people have asked Chamino what in the world a vape shop and a cold-press smoothie joint have to do with one another. But Chamino sees a very clear connection: both healthy juices and e-cigarettes are part of the public health business market. Vaping “needs to be seen in the purview of harm reduction—in the same vein as needle exchange,” he says.

Chamino, along with institutions like Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians, sees the new technology as a much safer alternative to cigarettes. With tobacco, smokers expose themselves and those around them to known cancer-causing agents. But vapor-producing “juice” primarily contains water; propylene glycol or vegetable glycerine, which helps produce the “smoke;” food flavoring; and, optionally, a reduced dose of nicotine. As a result, vapes and e-cigarettes are increasingly important tools for weaning off smoking.

A regular cigarette, depending on the type and how ardently it’s smoked, will hit you with anywhere from 8mg to 20mg of nicotine. But with vapes, it’s easy to regulate and reduce that number depending on the grade of the juice you load into the vape. According to Chamino, people who make the switch from cigarettes will usually start around 12mg, then jump down to 6mg, then to 3mg. If they want, they can kick it all together with 0mg juices, while retaining the social or meditative aspects of smoking, or the oral fixation.

But health is only one aspect drawing smokers to vapes, as the new technology is creating a culture all its own. There are artisan vapes made from stabilized wood—chemically treated to avoid warping, with often psychedelic-looking results—with price tags that rise into the thousands. There are smoke-trick competitions like the ones The White Buffalo occasionally hosts, where vapers shoot rings through other rings, make smoke animals and try to blow the most massive plume. Certain juices can build up a cult following, like Buffalo’s house-made Bluebird has.

In 2014, their Bluebird juice—combining the flavors of mixed-berry cheesecake and Cap’n Crunch cereal—began to trend in the local vape scene. People started Instagramming the bottle with the little Twitter-like bird. Before long, people were coming from all parts of Connecticut to buy it. Then from New York. And Boston. Buffalo started wholesaling the juice in October 2015 and, today, their little blue bird flies to some 200 vape shops across the US. Redbird, their newest wholesale juice, just went live last month, and Chamino says it’s flying high. What does it taste like? Strawberry cheesecake and Frosted Flakes.

Given those flavor combinations, you might’ve caught on to another advantage of vaping. Unlike with regular cigarettes, where the most exotic flavor behind the counter is usually menthol, vape juices run an ever-expanding gamut. Sometimes, labs are able to get food flavorings from the very companies that flavor a supermarket’s shelves. And things can get wild.

Among the dozens of wacky juices The White Buffalo carries are Fish (Swedish Fish-flavored), Alien Piss (lemonade, blueberry and raspberry) and Big Gay Bear (sour gummy bears), the latter made in-house to celebrate the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, wherein the Supreme Court declared same-sex couples’ right to get married. While there are some savory juices out there—using flavors like bacon, BBQ and clove—White Buffalo sticks mostly to the industry’s dominant categories: fruits and desserts.

Unfortunately for those who partake, this wild world of flavored e-cigarettes and vapes may soon be tamed. Groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have objected to the creation of flavors like cotton candy and gummy bears, arguing that they’re intended to exploit the tastes of children. In May, the FDA released new stringent regulations controlling the vaporizer and e-cigarette market. Vape advocates have criticized the rules, which they say impose too much bureaucracy at too great a cost.

How it will all play out is impossible to predict. Businesses still have two years before compliance becomes mandatory, and according to Chamino, an effort is underway to appeal the FDA’s regulations.

In the meantime, for those of legal age (18 years or older in Connecticut), it might be worth a trip to The White Buffalo, while it still vapes wild and free.

The White Buffalo
748 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Daily 11am-8pm
(475) 238-6181

Written by Daniel Shkolnik. Photos 1 and 3-5 by Daniel Shkolnik. Photo 2 provided courtesy of The White Buffalo.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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