Reasons, Myths, Social Constructs, and Trends With Changing TimesFrom a sociological perspective, we typically shun smoking and view it as reasonably “bad” and “unhealthy,” a fairly accurate assessment with proven data, fair or not to those who partake in the habit for whatever reason or however they picked up the habit to begin with. But with vaping products and electronic cigarettes, especially in younger generations, and many of whom who have never even partaken in smoking prior to use (and are not using it as a smoking cessation method) are we viewing the habit differently? And why are they opting to partake? While typically viewed as a physical and behavioral option for smoking cessation, a shocking 1.9 million E-cig users in the United States are not actually former smokers. As per this research, this demographic is also more likely to partake in other risk-taking behaviors (i.e. drinking, high risk sexual activity).
Perhaps this trend is occurring without enough research to support any potential health risks, benefits, corresponding trends, or even noticing the lack of FDA approval? And of course, a nicotine habit or addiction can form without the lack for any traditional cigarette product in the first place, a method that may seem “cleaner,” more sleek, or more socially acceptable.
More interestingly, has it become, in a certain sense (and perhaps similar to Hookah-style fun but without the traditional bar-like setting or social aspect), akin to a “lifestyle trend” for some of us. One we can partake in sans any poor smelling clothes, homes, or linens at the end of the day.
In younger generations, we are starting to see a rise of those who have never smoked cigarettes or used tobacco products purchase vapes and electronic nicotine devices for various reasons and at higher rates, and it’s a strikingly interesting phenomena, from both a sociological and psychological perspective.
This is also a trend we can (typically) easily partake in without any of the typical looks, judgment, commentary, or social connotations we’d receive if we were partaking in traditional smoking. One we may even admit to physicians without the typical warnings or scoldings, perhaps due to social construct, perhaps due to limited information thus far.In this article, we will explore some various points about vaping as in increasing “lifestyle choice” and new trend amongst those who have not previously smoked, as although we’ve traditionally considered it a smoking cessation method, it’s seemed to evolved into a social trend for some, and we are seeing some companies facing legal trouble due to marketing flavored vaping products towards younger generations, causing outrage amongst parents and communities at large. Recently new age restrictions have been placed on the purchase of electronic nicotine products to try to combat this growing trend, but prior to that, kids were allowed to legally partake in experimentation at their own dissertation and (physiologically) limited judgment.
Young People and Vaping Trends (Amongst Former Non-Smokers)As early as 2015, vaping product and e-cigarette use amongst high school students had increased by 900%, with 40% of these users never having previously tried traditional cigarettes or tobacco products.
By 2018, this percentage of users (who have not previously used tobacco product) has risen to over 50% of e-cig users. However, this cohort is more than twice as likely to become regular smokers within the following two years as those who never smoke due to nicotine dependence.
Overall, vaping has become the single most popular form of tobacco use amongst teenagers in the United States, dating back to 2011 and continuing to the present. Over 2 million middle and high school aged students have tried the products, and 40% of those in the 18-24 year old age group had not previously smoked.
So this begs the question, why are these products and devices, which are widely considered smoking cessation tools (or where at least initially created with such in mind), gaining such popularity amongst young people who have never formerly smoked regular cigarettes or used general tobacco products?
Although this may be speculation and/or open to interpretation, some factors to consider in youth-based electronic cigarette and vaping use include:
- Easy to conceal: unlike traditional smoking, the products do not create odors that can be easily detected by parents
- Young women facing social pressures or body image issues may engage in these behaviors in attempts to lose or maintain lower body weights to suppress appetites
- If friends have access to products there may be temptations to experiment with products easily concealable, portable and not detectable
- Flavors comparable to candy, cereal product, fruits, and food product may seem extremely attractive to young people
- There may be an idea, amongst both teens and the general public, that vaping and electronic cigarette use is less harmful (or not at all harmful) in comparison to traditional smoking or tobacco use
- Company marketing trends have been geared towards very young generations, with high levels of social media marketing and depictions of very young models and imagery suggestive of trendiness associated with the behavior
- In general, we have a lot of negative (mostly subconscious) associations with regular smoking, and tend to view those who smoke as coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, being in poorer general health, and having poorer decision-making abilities, due to a large gray area with a lot of unknown information concern vaping products, there is a lot less stigma and social judgement associated with the behavior, making it seem a lot more acceptable, and free of judgment and associations you’d find with traditional tobacco use
- Users can avoid odors on clothing, the breathe, and the general smell (this is applicable to adults as well)
- Young users can easily use school bathrooms to conceal and use devices during the day without any odors (the same is of course applicable to adults at work)
- Users can fool parents and teachers into thinking devices are other objects (i.e. flash drives)
Companies Under Fire For Marketing Efforts
Due to recent concerns over underage e-cig use and vaping, certain companies have come under fire and even had to restructure their entire marketing campaigns due to backfire, outrage, and parental campaigns.
In fact, one such company, Juul, has experienced so much recent backfire due to marketing efforts in the past year suggestively geared towards young people that they are planning on discontinuing the majority of their flavored pod products, which will likely be a huge hinderance, if not a total fiscal disaster or demise for the company itself.
The company dominated the market for years despite manufacturing issues but began using tactics such as using imagery featuring mascots and cartoons, creating flavors like “creme brulee” and “mango,” and ensuring devices resembled flash drives (this is speculation that this was in effort to fool teachers into not recognizing devices).
Meanwhile, the company also created videos featuring very young looking people at social gatherings and settings using the products and posing provocatively, inspiring teens themselves to begin posting photos of themselves with the devices on personal social profile pages. In 2015, the company launched a party encouraging young women to post photos of themselves with the devices to post to social accounts using the hashtag #lightscameravapor. While the company spokesperson claimed the models were intended to be in the 20’s to early 30’s demographic, photos emerged of teenagers at the party using the hashtag as well.
Following this, the company launched billboards and YouTube ads featuring very young models, one of whom was rumored to be an 18 year old employee (federal smoking age is 21 in CA).Campaigns following continued to use photos using very young female models, and the marketing trends created growing popularity amongst teens, with kids bringing the products to schools to film themselves “Juuling” or even using the products in front of teachers. While the company made the choice to pull the majority of these ads from billboards and accounts, the launch party Tweet has still not been removed. As of September, the FDA has threatened to shut down the entire company and they have received written warning letters and fines due to these practices, along with 60 day notices to mitigate the problems. As of now, most of Juul’s flavored SKUs (excluding 2) will be banned from stores and shelves as a consequence. These marketing practices were extremely unfortunate, and are also unfortunate for adults who enjoyed the products are used them as a genuine smoking alternative or cessation option. As of November 13th, 2018, Juul has officially deactivated their Instagram account. It’s become a very poor reflection of the industry at large and represents a sharp shift in what may happen in the future of the vaping community, which remains to be seen and is pure speculation.
A Lifestyle Choice?While unfortunate practices occur and there are growing numbers of non-smokers and young people trying these products, due to marketing tactics or otherwise, for some, the practice is an actual alternative to smoking and has been a positive and powerful quitting tool. Some may even question if in the course of replacing smoking, for adults, former smokers or otherwise, if this represents a conscious choice and a behavior they are not looking to cease anytime soon. Simple participation in vaping or electronic use of e-cigs as a former non-smoker, or even as a smoker, certainly does not make something a “lifestyle choice.” And this is an additional layer of the topic that may be applicable those of all ages, irrespective of former smoking status. However, it does seem that for both former smokers and those who have not previously used tobacco products, there has been a continuation of the habit, or a lack of desire to stop the habit, in the way you may desire to quit smoking. While there may be financial burdens to continuing vaping, due to limited health data and limited consequence, in conjunction with high rewards, for many of us, vaping has become somewhat of a pleasurable hobby that we don’t seem keen on stopping. As the aforementioned link would suggest, vaping has also saved many former smokers quite some money annually by comparison.
The question of these factors making it a “lifestyle choice” is of course still highly variable and open to interpretation. While most people begin vaping in an attempt to quit smoking without limiting the behavioral aspect (which is perhaps the most difficult part), after a while the vaping behavior itself devolves into a recreational behavior amongst friends, or individually, itself.
Merriam-Webster defines “lifestyle,” as either “associated with, reflecting, or promoting an enhanced or more desirable lifestyle,” or “the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture.”
It’s important to denote the following is based on generalities and certainly never applicable to 100% of smokers or those using vapes, but in speaking in general terms, it’s sufficient to assume that while neither of these definitions seem to define traditional (addictive) cigarette smoking for most of us, who view it as an undesirable trait that brings negative consequences with a high degree of of desire to stop the habit, they may fit in line with vaping or electronic cigarette use.With vaping, we can typically get together in groups or individually, and use the products without feeling many negative health consequences, poor odors, or many other negative associations and consequences as we would smoking. It becomes pleasurable to try out new flavors and devices, shop for different products, and even chat with your local vendors who are vaping and social at stores in your area. It almost seems to become a way of life. A way to enjoy an evening drink or a morning cup of coffee in the same way you would a cigarette or traditional tobacco product. For most smokers or former smokers, while there is that sense of satisfying the urge or craving and participating in a social setting with similar associations, for most of us it is not a way of life that we view as sustainable or enjoyable in a long term sense. The vast majority of smokers pick up their regular go-to pack without thought, much chatter or consideration, look into various quit methods, and are likely hoping to end the habit for a multitude of reasons. Most are viewing it as an addition rather than a choice, and the truth may be that vaping may be a coexisting affliction of addition and lifestyle- but all of this is open to wide debate, reflection and discussion. Ultimately, most of us who are former smokers can at the very least hope or claim that even without a significant plethora of scientific research or support to back it up at this juncture, we likely feel a bit physically better (and prefer the lack of odor), by comparison. Thus choosing or opting for vaping seems like the lesser of two evils at the very least, and the case is still out in terms of long term health consequences. Suffice to say, there is no objective answer to viewing vaping as a solid “lifestyle choice” or not, as that is a hot button issue up to an individual user to decide on, irrespective of former smoking status.
Conclusions: Safety, Vaping and Lifestyle Choices
While it is more than safe to assume a growing number of young people, particularly those who have never smoked previously, are indulging in vaping devices and e-cig use at growing rates exponentially year by year, the jury is still out on what the long term consequences will be and how we’ve gotten here.In terms of long term physical health consequences, while these products are not all FDA approved or regulated , we still really do not know what or if they will do anything to the body at this juncture as studies are still currently being conducted to research the effects of vaping on the body, mouth, lungs, and throat. While most physicians safely assume it is safer than smoking, marketing tactics and the easy concealment strategies involved with vaping have simply made the process easier for young people to engage in. Socioeconomic factors and lack of judgment have also assisted the process as well, as an easier route towards the same nicotine destination. In terms of vaping becoming a lifestyle choice, while this is highly variable and up to unique debate and perspective, it is safe to assume that those who partake do not seem as concerned with quitting as those who smoke, for various reasons, and engage more enjoyably and socially. It’s certainly become trendier younger, and become a habit that’s far exceeded a smoking cessation tool for the majority of users.