“If smoking is James Dean, vaping’s more like the Fonz: more fun and pretty harmless. Probably not quite as cool though”
These words were spoken by Sarah Jakes at last week’s Global Forum for Nicotine, an annual event held in Warsaw whose purpose is to bring together people with different areas of expertise but who share one common aim- to reduce the harm caused by tobacco. Sarah was a smoker herself for 35 years before she discovered vaping and since then she has actively campaigned on behalf of vapers everywhere through her work with the New Nicotine Alliance, a charity set up with the specific aim of promoting and supporting tobacco harm reduction.
James Dean, of course, was the very epitome of Hollywood cool and glamour in 1950s America; often pictured with a cigarette loosely dangling from his lips, he was a symbol of youthful rebellion at a time when the term “teenager” hadn’t yet been invented. The Fonz, on the other hand was a sort of James Dean pastiche. The American sitcom Happy Days was set in the 1950s (but created in the 70s) and made The Fonz the very essence of cool; he had greased back hair, wore a leather jacket and rode a motorcycle. At times it seemed as if Fonzie had truly supernatural cool abilities- he could turn on a jukebox just by hitting it and he could attract women simply by snapping his fingers. But Fonzie also had a lovable and caring side that he usually kept carefully hidden out of a fear of looking “uncool” but it occasionally used to reveal itself. In one episode of Happy Days called “Smokin’ Ain’t Cool” (season 6, episode 17), teenager Joanie Cunningham succumbs to peer pressure and becomes a secret cigarette smoker as a way of looking more grown up. Fortunately for Joanie, Fonzie finds her out before her parents do and he then uses his powers of coolness to dissuade young Joanie from taking up the evil weed.
With her amusing comparison of two icons of popular culture, Sarah Jakes also makes a very serious point; that vaping is pleasurable, fun and- when compared to smoking- vaping is relatively harmless. However, you could be forgiven for not thinking this if you read most of the sensationalist vaping articles that appear frequently in the media- and any glance down to the readers’ comments will bring up the inevitable negative remarks which range from the cynical:
“Whether it stops people smoking or not… It looks f***ng ridiculous. They’re also, on the whole, insufferable bores.”
…to the more puritanical:
“Vapers are marginally less annoying than smokers but still annoying nevertheless.”
…to the people who are just plain misinformed:
“Wow really cool. Especially popcorn lung!”
…then there are the hateful and nasty ones:
“they think they deserve admiration and even gratitude for self harming slightly less. Bravo, have a sticker and enjoy your bubble gum flavoured addiction.”
…ending with the dangerously ridiculous:
“like grown ups blowing bubbles from a toy pipe -at least have the courage to smoke fags!”
Maybe that last comment was written by someone who also drives around without wearing a seatbelt..?
It’s hard to understand why all this venom is directed towards people who have made a sensible decision to stop smoking and switch to an alternative that is considerably less harmful to themselves and those around them. Nobody that I know has ever seriously made the claim that vaping is cool- people begin vaping to help them give up smoking, but once they have started, they begin to realise how much more enjoyable it is. With the massive range of flavours and the huge choice of kit, vaping starts to become a hobby- it becomes fun. While it doesn’t appeal to me personally, is it really any of my business if someone chooses to use a SMOK Mag mod because it looks cool and futuristic? As long as it gives them pleasure and keeps them away from smoking cigarettes, I have no problem with it whatsoever and neither should anyone else.
By making the switch to vaping, smokers suddenly feel empowered for the first time after many years of alienation. They are not looking for admiration or gratitude from anyone. They have found their own solution to a problem- one which is more pleasurable than using nicotine patches or gum and they would just like to be left alone to get on with it- cool or not.
We’d be interested to hear your views on this topic. Do you think vaping is cool? Does your choice of kit make a fashion statement about you or couldn’t you care less what anyone else thinks? How do you react to other people’s negative views on vaping?