Detail from davide ragusa: man in the smoke, 2018 (Unsplash)
From California Sunday:
A few blocks from the UCLA campus there’s a vape shop and lounge that caters to people in their 20s — the legal end of the youth spectrum. The place looks like a nightclub, with trippy solar-system murals, mounted flat-screens playing music videos, and LED furniture pulsing with Day-Glo light. A paperback copy of The Astrology of You and Me sits on a coffee table.
I drop by on a quiet Thursday evening. A guy with a skateboard walks in. “What’s up, dude?” asks Andrés Carrillo, the 26-year-old behind the counter. Carrillo is wearing pink-tinted aviators, rings on every finger, and a cream button-down open to his navel, revealing an evil-eye tattoo on his chest. “Are you in finals or something, too?”
“Dude,” the guy with the skateboard responds, shaking his head sadly. He has a final at 8 a.m., so he came to pick up three Puff Bars — the disposable brightly colored vape-pen brand that seems to have supplanted Juul after it stopped selling most flavors. Almost every customer who comes in is here to pick up Puff Bars — Cool Mint, Lychee Ice, Blue Razz.
“I wanted to try out these new Puffs because I saw everybody having them, and I’m like, really like, I got seduced by the colors,” explains a thin boy with a metal feather earring, a quartz necklace, and a bucket hat. “It made me think I want to try all the flavors.” He’s a senior, and he started vaping when he was a sophomore — both nicotine and THC. He tells me he slept all afternoon, missing his dance rehearsal, because he got sick from a marijuana vape pen. “I actually got, like, so dizzy, like, I almost fainted while I was driving,” he says. This is not the first time a weed vape pen made him ill, he tells me. It’s happened several times before, but never with nicotine.
Phree Cole, who is 22 and has the next shift, comes in with his friend Jakobi Mulgrave, after a trip to In-N-Out Burger. Cole is wearing a gray beanie and a tie-dye hoodie over his shoulder-length blond hair. Mulgrave settles into a glowing chair for a game of giant Jenga, vaping on a Banana Ice Puff Bar. He comes here to hang out almost every night, he says. On weekends, the lounge stays open until 3 a.m., an hour after the bars close. He tells me he started vaping when he was 18 or 19 and has never smoked cigarettes. I ask him if his parents know. “Yeah, my dad saw a Juul come out of my pocket,” he says. “He got really pissed. He was saying it’s, like, killing people and all this stuff. I tried to explain to him that it’s, like, black-market-weed stuff that’s doing it.”