For decades, smoking has been seen as cool – a symbol of rebellion, and at the same time, something that epitomises style and affluence. Despite crackdowns on advertising, cigarettes have managed to cling on to this image for a long time, but finally it seems like the tide is turning, and smoking’s reputation is now burning away. In its place, vaping is seeing a huge surge in popularity, as smart users realise that there are long-term health benefits from switching to e-cigarettes.
From the iconic images of Hollywood stars like James Dean and Marlon Brando, to more contemporary figures such as Lemmy, Pete Doherty and Liam Gallagher, smoking has long been at the heart of popular culture. Back in the late 1970s, the classic coming-of-age movie, Grease, was full of high school students smoking, from Danny Zuko (John Travolta) as the coolest guy in school, to Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) learning how to smoke in order to fit in with the gang and get her guy, then stubbing out her cigarette in the now legendary final scene. As the years have passed, smoking has still held onto this super cool image, with the 2012 Smoking’s Cool exhibition in Bradford’s Rock City Art venue just one example from more recent times.
Things are starting to change though, with signs that smoking is featuring less and less in pop culture, to be replaced by vaping. The latest release from the Foo Fighters, “Run”, is the perfect example – the video for the song ends with a riot in a nursing home, with at least one resident vaping and a massive vape cloud billowing up. With movies like The Tourist showing characters vaping, and actors like Leonardo DiCaprio vaping publicly at an awards ceremony, vaping is now well and truly established as the new cool.
Next generation on board
It’s a fact that more and more people of all ages are switching to e-cigarettes as a way of helping them to stop smoking altogether. E-cigarettes have now overtaken other stop smoking aids, such as patches and gum, and the NHS has found that vaping has much better success rates than other aids, for people who want to quit.
Vaping is also seeing its own unique culture developing, with younger people vaping without nicotine, using novelty flavours, and participating in vape events like cloud competitions. E-liquids containing nicotine are rarely used in these competitions, as the amount of nicotine inhaled would be excessive, so fun flavours are being developed all the time to meet this growing demand. A whole new vocabulary is also emerging to support these competitions, with competitors known as cloud-chasers, and spectators termed cloud-gazers. When a trend develops its own terminology, you can be sure that it has reached critical mass, and has moved from a niche scene to mainstream pop culture.
Cloud competitions, music videos and celebrity endorsements are just a few examples of how vaping has entered pop culture, and a recent study by the University of Durham concluded that ‘vaping is establishing itself as a new phenomenon, independent of traditional smoking’.
All of this suggests that smoking has finally had its day, and is no longer seen as fashionable. The volumes of scientific evidence of the harm that smoking does, coupled with legislation changes on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, are having the desired effect. With an alternative that is up to 95% healthier than traditional cigarettes, it’s not really surprising that vaping has taking over from smoking as the new cool. Seen as just as hip as smoking, but without the health risks, vaping looks set to become ever more popular.