IT is impossible not to have noticed the thick clouds of sweet vapour pouring from artisan gin bars and pay-by-the-minute cafés as the vaping fad sweeps the UK.
You probably have a friend who started sucking on an e-cigarette trying to blow smoke rings and maintaining that it’s about cutting down on tobacco, not making a statement. Now you’re just as likely to see someone loitering outside Starbucks and taking long draws on a vape as you are likely to see someone with a good old-fashioned fag.
Along with the growing number of people who vape (“vapers”), the industry has undergone huge growth. As of 2014 the industry was worth $6bn. Now you can buy cheapy plastic e-cigs, devices with adjustable voltages for different strengths, various grades of nicotine or nicotine free liquids, and every flavour under the sun. Watermelon, bubblegum, Amber Leaf tobacco, blueberry ice, aniseed, German Chocolate Beefcake, Not-Cho Cheese Fauxritos… The list goes on.
A whole culture has arisen around the vaping craze, too.
You can spend hours watching YouTubers review devices and flavours of liquid, moulding vapour rings in the air, or attending the annual Vape expo, where vapers get gather to, well, vape a lot and be cool together.
Although vaping and e-cigarettes have taken off in the mainstream only recently, the technology has been around for a few years. Hon Lik, a pharmacist in China who had a brutal 50 a day smoking addiction, is generally credited with the first modern e-cig as a smoking alternative to try and end his human chimney habit.
Some say it was actually Herbert Gilbert in 1960s in the US , or perhaps a Dr Jacobson, though it really doesn’t matter to anyone except for vape historians and e-cig archaeologists.
Just for Hipsters?
To many of us, vaping looks like another trapping of the hipster lifestyle, to go with your vegan leather brogues or a plaited beard. It’s certainly showy. The light flashes off your chrome-plated £50 device, as large as a tape-player Walkman and passion fruit vapour streams from your mouth and plagues everyone sat around the same table in the pub.
“Sorry, did I vape on you by accident?”
So what exactly is the fuss about? Who vapes and why? Is it just for people who want to look cool but are too afraid to smoke properly?
Due to the apparent similarities with smoking tobacco, few people realise that e-cigarettes and vapourisers are much less harmful than traditional cigarettes.
The treacly clouds, while much thicker than those from cigarettes, are mostly water and other non-toxic ‘stage smoke’ products, such as propylene glycol. It has slight irritant properties, so you’ll feel it if you chain-vape, but none of the severe toxicity of actual smoking.
In fact, smokers form the main group of vapers. The number of people who have never smoked but tried or use an e-cig is almost negligible, making up 0.14% of the British vaping population.
Vapers tend smoke as well as vape.
It is long-term and recent smokers who have made up the growth in e-cig usage, according to Smoking In England.
E-cigarettes is often used as a Nicotine Replacement Therapy. Unlike patches or gum, it gives you a similar lung-hit to a cigarette and also the smoke, which are two of the things smokers miss most while trying to quit, without being nearly as harmful. The fun of smoking without stained fingers, coughing up brown phlegm, and a protracted case of lung cancer.
As one distributor in Canada commented, “it’s like smoking with a condom on.”
So while some of us may ridicule vapers as soft-smokers, wannabe hipsters, or kids who need a real hobby, there may some significant positives to the vaping trend. Those vapers who attend vaping competition or put out monthly trick compilations on YouTube probably have too much time on their hands and more money than sense. For the majority or vapers, however, the e-cigarette provides a way of cutting down on more harmful smoking habits, and could be beneficial for those who want to quit.