Are E-Cigarettes Making Smoking Seem Less Gross?

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 File picture taken on May 25, 2009 in Beiijng shows the inventor of the electronic cigarette, Hon Lik smoking his invention in Beiijng.
Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/2013 AFP

The New Inquiry recently published a long piece that hits on the psychological aspects that could be driving the success of the e-cigarette, and how vaping may be reframing the way we perceive a person’s nicotine habit.

Writes David A. Banks:

Unlike the patch or gum, which are embedded in a medicalized discourse of aspirational quitting and reinforce addiction taboos, vaping offers a new nicotine ritual that eschews some of the vilification smokers have experienced in recent decades. It invites curiosity rather than judgment.

Building on that, sociologist Nathan Jurgenson went on a mini-Twitter rant this afternoon, adding that the vaping community has helped clean up the smoking culture’s tarnished image by taking the cigarette’s image and “sterilizing” or “de-vulgarizing” it, as he put it.

For decades, the anti-smoking movement has done a bang-up job of convincing us that smoking is not only harmful to your health, it’s shameful and gross, something to be banished from pristine parks and clean beaches and anywhere else people routinely gather and would like to keep nice. More recently, major cities (including New York) are scrambling to ban e-cigs from public places, which some say is motivated largely by fears that vaping will make smoking culture socially acceptable again. Neither Banks nor Jurgenson mention those recent regulations. But, especially in light of emerging research suggesting that e-cigarettes really might deliver on their promise to help smokers quit, it’ll be interesting to watch what happens to the vaping subculture as it increasingly faces the same enforced ostracism that cigarette smokers do.