Addicted to Elf Bars Now? You’re Not Alone

Admit it – you got addicted to candy-coloured vapes this summer, and now you're suffering in winter.
Two guys addicted to elf bars vaping outside
Image: Helen Frost

Alright, we had our fun. Huffing and puffing away as the sun set and we sunk pints with our nearest and dearest, laughing about how silly our little vapes are: “I know, I didn’t even smoke before, how funny!” It was joyful and frivolous; trying every flavour like a child in a sweet shop, from cherry cola all the way to kiwi guava.

We tenderly offered our friends our vape, extending a loving arm vape-in-hand without a word said. We nursed defcon one hangovers with delicate toots, gradually building to big boy huffs while “working” from home. Those who didn’t smoke before revelled in this new reason to be outside. Fruity vapers (cool), smooth vapers (lame), energy drink vapers (deranged), ice vapers (legends), tobacco vapers (odd). In pub gardens, inside when no one was looking; as soon as we got off the tube and the bus; at family parties and office dos; in the morning, afternoon, evening, afters; until we had a little too much nicotine and felt sick and had to take a solid five in a different room. It was a summer of newness and excitement; it was the summer of vape.


But, and I really am sorry to be the one to do this, it isn’t summer anymore. It’s November and it’s big coat season. The balmy fling has come to a harsh, sodden end and now’s the time to reflect. Because – I’ll say this quietly, so those who managed to not start vaping this summer don’t hear – we feel like shit and we are addicted. 

The gym’s become tougher, hasn’t it? Be honest. 10k, once a breeze for you, has now become a tense one-on-one with the Grim Reaper. Prolific marathon runner Ellie Dawson says: “I won’t lie, I feel wheezy. I have never felt wheezy; I swear to god my lungs have aged around 20 years.” It’s no surprise: Dr. Onkar Mudhar went viral after describing one vape as being equivalent to around 48 cigarettes.

I approached other doctors to comment, but none wanted to go on record as there’s little credible research surrounding vape liquid, which if you ask us, says a lot. But this preliminary study basically confirmed that it might make your lungs do bad things — the official name for that is “constrictive bronchiolitis” — though it “wasn’t clear whether the patients’ disease was the result of vaping alone or the combination of vaping after quitting smoking”. Either way, not good!


And the thing is, it isn’t too rare for me to see more than a handful of my mates to puff through two of these a weekend. “I usually have one per night out,” Ellie says. “But if I’m being honest, I sometimes do the two for £10 and then just use the other throughout the week.’ 

Our weekly budgets have taken a hit too – they add up, all the drunken trips to those offies just around the corner. It’s the cost of living crisis and we’ve picked up an additional expense – oops. “I really don’t want to think about how many I’ve bought since I started,” says Jack Ward, a 24-year-old site worker. “But I do know I took 10 to Glastonbury and had to buy more from someone there.” 

Of course the biggest elephant in the room – the one we’ve all neglected all summer – is just how fucking terrible these things are for the planet. They’re so disposable that you often just see them littered on the streets. Even when binned, Elf Bars and all the other imposters simply won’t biodegrade. That shit’s turning into microplastics and entering our soil and water.

And virtue aside, I feel like we should actually consider whether it’s good for you know, our public image. What are the optics of these things? Because us vapers obviously think it’s cool. We like that thing we do when we hold the vape with our teeth and smoke hands-free. That makes us feel really fucking cool, like Hackney’s own James Dean. But… is it? Does exhaling water vapour from glorified highlighter pens make you look sexy? As Joel Golby, VICE’s favourite rental market commentator, tells me: “Has anyone ever met anyone in the vaping area and fucked them?”

This summer of love has converted endless people who didn’t smoke into nicotine heads, and now they’re reeling in a number of ways. Sadie Matthew, a 27-year-old music supervisor who only picked up the habit this year, is brutally honest: “I do regret starting to vape; I never even smoked but like everyone else got enticed by those little colourful sticks, and what started as a joke is now a not-unproblematic addiction to vaping.”

I’m sure there are people out there who smoked a pack or two a day, and now with the help of vapes, don’t. Or they smoke less. Props to those mythical kings and queens who are feeling healthier and spending less money; we salute you. But it’s hard for us vape-only heads to consider a night out without our little smoke pens. I get it, I’m the same. But the thing is, all weighed up and packaged and priced and re-offered to us in this new context of gale force winds and pit-patting rain, it doesn’t look as attractive, does it? Do we really want to nip out for a little vape when it’s below 10 degrees? Do we really want to be coughing up our insides at the gym when it’s hard enough to go in the winter? Do we really want these nasty lil guys to derail our autumnal glow-up?

Of course, we could try zero percent nicotine vapes, which I think really highlights the absurdity of the summer we’ve had. But really I think we should all just kick the habit. We can say bye-bye to the grandfather clock strike of fear we get when we inhale and nothing comes out. We don’t need to be manically running to an off-licence in a part of town we don’t know during halftime of England vs USA. Now’s the opportunity to leave our summer of fun behind and become better, sensible people. So good luck, elfologists, we’re all going to need it.