Austin Texas has been home to championship teams from football to volleyball, along with individual title winners in tennis and golf. But there's a new sport taking hold here and across the country, and already there’s a controversy overshadowing it.
Over the weekend, at a strip mall on Airport Boulevard champions were crowned.
Not in an athletic arena. In the All About Vapor Shop
Finalists were named in the sport – so to speak — of Cloud Chasing.
The rules are relatively simple to explain. The keys to victory in the cloud composition: density and distance. Competitors blow as big a cloud of e-juice vapor as far as possible. The tricks component is a little more subjective with judges deciding the winner.
Winners in the men’s and women’s cloud competition and the winner of the tricks competition are moving on to the 2016 Vape Capitol Cloud Championships this summer. And while this may sound ridiculous, there’s real money at stake — $10,000 for the men's tricks and cloud winner and $5,000 for the women’s cloud champ. That's right, the gender pay gap seen in traditional sports is alive here too.
But just like the steroids era of baseball in the ‘90s, there's a cloud hanging over the competition. The same weekend the games were taking place in Central Texas, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it will now start regulating e-cigarette products, requiring age limits, clearer product labels and health warnings.
The FDA will also scrutinize vape marketing. Dr. Jeff Temple with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston says that, just like cigarettes a few generations ago, vaping is targeting a younger crowd.
“Anywhere from 12 to 24 years old. The flavoring of them are Skittles or Gummi Bear, piña colada or Fruity Pebbles, or any number of things that is certainly not appealing to an older crowd," Temple says. "They’re targeting younger folks.”
The move has Andrew Armstrong concerned. He was the Tricks runner-up, competing as The Wizard of Ohs.
“They’re basing it on public health when it’s been proven time and time again to help people," he says.
Armstrong couldn't stop smoking cigarettes until two years ago, when he was given his first e-cigarette.
And he wasn’t the only one: Women’s Cloud winner Nicole Watson of Austin was able to give up cigarettes too.
“I feel healthier. I have way more energy. I don’t cough up a lung every morning when I get up. I can blow giant clouds. I’ve got good lung capacity now. I can breathe.”
Vape Capitol’s director Andre Burbridge says vaping helped him quit a 10-year smoking habit. But he recognizes the risks with vaping.
“I’ve always had those thoughts that maybe in time they’ll find something wrong with vaping. But I know how I feel. I know how I live today. I know that I don’t smell like an ash tray. I don’t feel lethargic feeling anymore from smoking cigarettes.”
Dr. Jeff Temple says for now, we just don't know enough about the consequences of vaping.
“Now I will say from a harm reduction standpoint, if someone has been a lifelong smoker of combustible cigarettes and they’re trying to quit, and they’ve tried a bunch of different things, e-cigarettes might be the way to go.”
Competitor Lyndon Fields isn’t worried about the costs for now. “I mean, everything’s gonna be a whole lot cheaper than cancer.”
Jordan Hallerbach of Austin won the men’s competition. Titus Edwards, aka King Titus, of Houston took the Tricks title. Those two and women's champ Nicole Watson head to California later this year for their chance to win the grand prize.