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By Hein Kaiser

Journalist


Has vaping replaced the sexy smoker?

The perceived health benefits of vaping over traditional smoking play a role in its appeal.


Vaping is more than simply a delivery device for a nicotine hit. It’s become a statement of sensuality with media and social media littered with pictures that entrench and align vaping culture with everything sexy. 

Many years ago, a dangling cigarette or a puff of smoke added a touch of sophistication by smoking stars of bygones like Marlene Dietrich and James Dean. Cigarettes were always associated with a blend of aesthetics, sensory pleasure, and cultural dynamics via the media. Today, vaping is taking its place, symbolic, perhaps of contemporary desires and ideals.

While tobacco smoking has lost its allure and for the most part, its desirous characteristics, vaping snuggled into its place. You cannot customise a cigarette, but you can chop and change your vape just like any other device. Design, skins and the ability to customise vapes have played into today’s identity seeking culture. 

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The adage of kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray no longer applies. Well, not to vapers, anyway. The habit is a sensory experience through its vast selection of flavours. Unlike the often-criticised harsh odour of tobacco smoke, the vapour from e-cigarettes is seen as pleasant and more socially acceptable.

“This sensory pleasure,” said psychologist Dr Jonathan Redelinghuys, combined with the devices’ aesthetic appeal, casts vaping in a more favourable light.

“It’s seen as more elegant and reminds of the glamourised smoking scenes in old Hollywood films,” he said. “Vaping has captured the essence of what made the smoking stars of the forties sensual and iconic.”

“It’s not just about the act of smoking or vaping but the entire aesthetic, the sensory experience, and the air of sophistication it brings to the table.”

The perceived health benefits of vaping over traditional smoking play a significant role in its modern appeal.

“Despite ongoing debates about its long-term effects, vaping is often seen as a less harmful alternative, especially appealing to a health-conscious younger generation,” said Dr Redelinghuys.

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This in turn limits feelings of guilt and a bit of the stigma associated with nicotine consumption via smoking cigarettes, he suggested.

Vaping has been banned from many public places, just like tobacco smoking. This has also nurtured a similar communal culture that cigarette users share. “The communal experience provided by vaping, much like smokers in a smoker’s corner or outside a restaurant in the street, adds a significant layer to its appeal. It’s about sharing experiences, it’s a conversation starter, and it still holds a measure of rebellion-appeal, just like smoking once did,” said Dr Redelinghuys. 

Unlike the larger-than-life cigarette adverts audiences used to see on cinema screens or on magazine back pages, vaping is cleverly marketed where its audience lives using the same aspirational tactics that big tobacco once did. Find it on social media. It’s portrayed as modern, a socially acceptable practice and no different to other lifestyle devices like cellphones, tablets, and other lifestyle enhancements.

“Interestingly, the rise of vaping and its associated culture may also reflect broader societal shifts towards inclusivity and diverse expressions of identity,” said Dr Redelinghuys. “Customisation, the slight upstream nature of vaping and, of course, its sensuality resonates with contemporary values around identity and self-expression. This aspect of vaping culture aligns with the values of younger generations, who often champion inclusivity and fluidity in identity expression.”

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All things considered, he said, vaping is riding the crest of a period of massive social and political change. That, in part, is why its success seems unstoppable. “From people simply using it as a tool to quit smoking through to its iconic symbolism of a generation, blending technology, style and social connectivity with personal identity, it’s definitely not just a fad.”

Dr Redelinghuys did however caution that vaping is not a healthy pastime. “There is no evidence that guarantees the safety of the habit, and in countries like the United States there have been some major health-related concerns related to vaping. It is important to bear this in mind. Also, nicotine is addictive, no matter how it is delivered to your system.”

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