To vape, or not to vape? That is the question that defines a generation. Electronic cigarettes—those made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio, teenagers whose parents will not allow them to buy cigarettes, and all of the worst people that you know—are a trend that refuses, against all odds, to go away. As the abstract of this meticulously detailed journal article from San Diego State University so eloquently puts it, "The reasons for using electronic nicotine delivery systems are poorly understood." To translate: No one knows why vaping is popular, but no less than eight researchers have dedicated considerable time to finding out. A noble cause. Let's dive in.
The methodology of this study is, firstly, groundbreaking. To ascertain people's reasons for using e-cigarettes instead of literally anything else, researchers analysed four years' worth of tweets that mentioned vaping. They discounted advertisements and bot posts. Vaping and Twitter. Vaping, Twitter. Tweeting, vaping. It makes sense, doesn't it? Two indispensable weapons in a certain brand of millennial's self medication arsenal. I'm not saying that this kind of person would wear a fedora, but I'm also not not saying that. You can picture who I mean: Between 28 and 63 followers, and it's very likely they haven't changed their profile picture from Twitter's default egg thing.
The research for this paper, aptly named "Why do people use electronic nicotine delivery systems (electronic cigarettes)? A content analysis of Twitter, 2012-2015," began back in 2012—when the vaping craze was in its infancy. Back then, according to the hard Twitter data, people were mainly picking up the ol' vape pen to quit smoking. That year, 43 percent of vape-related tweets linked a desire to replace cigarettes with a usage of e-cigarettes. Predictably, most of these were from an older demographic.
As time wore on though, the researchers detected that "social image" began to play a stronger role in "vape culture." They gave some example "social image" tweets, which I am compelled to simply present to you without comment:
"I want one of those e-cigs, it'll make me look cool."
"Vaping in the club"
"The best part is the taste"
By 2015, the report says that most vape tweets were of the character above. Tragically, the majority of vapers that year were vaping because they thought they looked cool doing so. The data does not lie. Other tweets cited the comparative safety of vaping compared to cigarette smoking as a reason for e-cigarette use. Five percent of people said that they preferred the smell of e-cigarettes to combustible ones.
In their analysis, the researchers identified a few factors that coincided with vaping's increase in popularity among those who at least believe themselves to be cool. They note that e-cigarettes are now often banned in the same places that cigarettes are, which means they aren't so much an alternative to smoking as a whole new and horrible habit unto themselves. They also observed that e-cigarette marketing is increasingly "social image dominated"—focusing less on spruiking the supposed health benefits of vaping.
So there you have it. People vape because they perceive it to be cool. Did we need an academic paper to tell us this? Perhaps not. Perhaps not. But, also, it is not unamusing to read a detailed, earnest, numbers-based analysis of how vaping managed to transcend from the desperate smoker's last resort to club rat's best friend. The academics who conducted this study were, truly, doing God's work—and I recommend reading the entire report, which you can find here.
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