Culture //

Vaping: clearing the air

This is not a puff piece

Artwork by Risako Katsumata Artwork by Risako Katsumata

Vaping is the act of inhaling vapour produced by a vaporiser or e-cigarette. Over the last few years this alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes has transitioned from a niche practice among sciencebro early adopters, to a widely memed neckbeard indulgence, to, more recently, the basis for an extensive subculture. These days more people than ever have heard about vaping, but when it comes to the details many still have their heads in the clouds.

Like any favoured past-time, experts can taxonomise the art of “ripping the fattest vape”. Beginners are often introduced to the form via an ‘e-cigarette’ (or ciglike) or ‘pen’ device. Pens are long, thin tubes that resemble elaborate fountain pens, while ‘cigalike’ devices are smaller and often look like a futuristic version of their heavily taxed counterpart. Popular e-cigarettes include JUUL, which has recently came under fire for promoting their products to teenagers.

Each vaporiser is powered by a battery that converts e-liquid (or e-juice) into inhalable droplets using an ‘atomiser’. E-liquids are conveniently stored in either a refillable tank (in the case of pens) or cartridge (in the case of e-cigarettes).  But for those who fancy themselves somewhat of a connoisseur of the cloud, or who perhaps just don’t get enough of a kick from the cig or pen variety, the ‘mod’ vape might be more enticing. Mods are generally bulkier than their pen counterparts with higher battery, tank, and heating capacities. Users can customise the intensity of its mechanism; for example, one could achieve a more potent cloud by amping up the voltage of the battery. But just as the chariot is secondary to the rider, so too is the vaper’s technique more important than their hardware. A slow and steady draw from the mouthpiece packs a stronger hit, much like a cigarette. But it is the exhale that separates the weak from the strong: vape tricks have attracted  hobbyists who blow “dope”. Some tricks include the ‘dragon’ where one exhales out the nose, the ‘bull ring’, the ‘jellyfish’ and smoke rings.

Beyond this, the ability to mix e-juices to create delightfully (or disastrously) unique flavours adds an additional, if unexpected, creative flair to vaping. One can opt for tropical fruity juices, or creamy dessert varieties, or even tobacco-flavoured liquids should they miss the harshness of old.

Regrettably, for some at least, flavours sold in Australia cannot contain nicotine by law, though online stores in New Zealand can satisfy an addictive kick should it persist.

This illegality is controversial. Being a relatively new and under-researched phenomenon, many lawmakers, especially of the conservative ilk, are unable to distinguish it from smoking.

Ergo, anyone caught vaping in public places can be fined up to $550 just as any other smoker would. But the public health worries that underlie this approach seem misplaced: research undertaken by Public Health England found that “there have been no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders”.

Research has also shown that vaping is one of the most effective ways to get people to stop smoking ordinary tobacco. And given that there is next to nothing in the literature suggesting that vaping is anywhere near as harmful as ordinary tobacco smoking, this is a tremendous win for each and every person who makes the switch.  This punitive approach risks sending smokers a mixed message,  punishing those trying an effective strategy to wean themselves off smoking, whilst running graphic “quit smoking” campaigns and revelling in the hefty cigarette taxes.

Despite what the best research says, it remains to be seen whether the government is willing or able to pull its heads out of the clouds on this issue. But as vaping continues to be normalised and the subculture continues to grow, expect not only to smell more of their fruity exhalations but to also see the pressure on government make like a mod and heat the fuck up.