Standing next to me at a table that looks amorphous in a pool of light, a man with cheekbones that could cut ice gleefully unwraps a slim white package. He removes what looks like an elongated USB drive – but instead of popping it into a computer and revealing government secrets or Aunt Eunice’s vacation photos, he places it between his lips. As he draws inward, a small light on the softly sparkling charcoal-colored stick glows green. His face animates.
“It’s strong!” he exclaims, exhaling a luxurious plume of thick, sweet-smelling vapor before passing it to his comely companion. “Wow – I’m already feeling it.”
All around us, vapor drifts in sultry wisps from the clusters of effervescent fashion types, blazered tech aficionados, and Bushwick hipsterati who have gathered in Chelsea’s Jack Studio to celebrate the launch of JUUL Vapor, a new e-cigarette from PAX Labs.
An hour into the event the dance floor’s already packed with a veritable sea of chunky heels, black crop tops, and haircuts that should have their own domain name. The crowd bops to 90s hip-hop and contemporary bangers from DJs Chapman, Illuminati AMS, and May Kwok. The dancers occasionally pause to snag a summer-inspired treat from circulating trays of hors d’oeuvres created by Top Chef winner Ilan Hall of LA and Brooklyn restaurants The Gorbals.
I score a Ruby Greyhound (Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka + LaCroix Sparkling Water, garnished with a lemon wedge) from one of the two open bars before hitting the live photo shoot, where a bubbly model-type with a Brazilian accent has me fill out a release form (yes to Instagram – and, why not, to the chance to be featured on a billboard in Times Square) before escorting me to a towering white backdrop.
I’m positive my picture won’t look as hip as the ones in JUUL’s arresting ad campaign, but photographer Marley Kate turns out to be a sorceress with a lens. When she shows me her snaps I want to beg her to follow me everywhere.
I wander through pools of red, green, and blue light to the event’s pulsating epicenter, where clusters of revelers wait to sample the product itself. Unlike its competitors, JUUL Vapor is neither a cigarette-shaped tube nor a chunky pipe that looks like something Frodo Baggins might smoke. Instead it’s a slim charcoal-colored rectangle that I’m told is mostly battery; snap one of its thumbnail-sized “juice pods” into place and you’ve got 200 puffs in flavors including Tabaac, Miint, Fruut, and Bruulee.
From the satisfying click of its magnetic charger to the beveled rectangular design, it feels like you’re smoking pure technology…which is no surprise, given JUUL’s origins in PAX Labs, a start-up nestled in the cradle of San Francisco’s bustling tech scene. After perfecting the PAX vaporizer (you know, that space-age looking thing your booty call likes to hit before heading down to Beavertown?), they turned their attention to e-cigarettes.
“We took a look at what was out there and felt like we could do better,” says James Monsees, PAX Labs’ youthful cofounder and CEO. JUUL’s pods use the natural salts found in leaf tobacco instead of relying, as most e-cigarettes do, on freebase nicotine. The result delivers twice the nicotine strength and three times the vapor quantity of leading vapor products, which means a smoother, more satisfying experience for users – and, for folks trying JUUL for the first time, a not-unpleasant nicotine buzz.
In addition to designing the perfect vaporizing cigarette, the hivemind at PAX Labs also knows how to throw a party. As famed electronic rock duo Phantogram whips the room into a frenzy the after-work crowds and nightlife crowds become one, dancing close in a fog of booze-fueled, good-natured debauchery. Clouds of vapor scroll from their mouths, twisting in elegant curlicues toward the studio’s pristine white ceiling.
Make your vapor. Check out JUUL here.