Is Vaping a True Culture?

Aug. 14, 2014
by Matt Wallace

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In 2013, sales of e-cigarettes nearly eclipsed the $2 billion mark as users looking for their nicotine fix without the dangers of carcinogens caused by combustion found them to be a breath of fresh(er) air. With numerous websites devoted to connecting e-cigarette users to other “vaping” aficionados, the question arises over whether or not e-cigarette users could be considered collectively as a culture. Numerous e-cigarette conventions, such as Vape Summit, have sprung up across the country as thousands flock to these events to meet other vapers, view and test new products and discuss legislation regarding the fairly new e-cigarette phenomenon. Does this qualify the so-called “vapers” as a culture? For a better answer to what is a fairly broad question, the idea of “culture” needs to be put into perspective.

What is Culture?
For years, sociologists and anthropologists have struggled to nail down one encompassing definition of “culture” and even now it seems too nebulous to truly define. There are dozens of theories within sociology about what comprises a culture but there is fairly universal agreement that culture is comprised a certain elements, including symbols used to communicate, a shared language, beliefs, andnorms. To make things even more arbitrary, the idea of “subcultures” is also at play which essentially designate cultures that actively reject the mainstream culture, but would arguably still be classified as a type of culture. Yet, some may wish to avoid the designation as subculture has become a fairly politicized word and carries fairly negative connotations as its association with the radical left have given it notions of anti-authoritarianism and anti-social behaviors. Nonetheless, groups like Star Trek fans (Trekkies) and Comic fanatics have actively embraced the idea of being a “subculture” and the term has become a way to embrace their distinction from the regular mainstream culture.

So, is Vaping a Culture?
To really assess vapings status as a culture of subculture, we can simply examine if the e-cigarette community has the previously mentioned traits of a culture.

Symbols
Does the vaping community possess symbols they use to communicate? While this is debatable, some could consider just the appearance of an e-cigarette a badge of pride for many vapers and there are several recognizable brands across the country.

Beliefs
Anyone familiar with the vaping community would definitely argue that there many shared beliefs from the best way to build your e-cigarette to the idea that 6 mg e-juice is probably a little strong. Obviously like any culture there are schisms and while vaping’s schisms aren’t as divisive as who the true successor to the Prophet Mohammad really is, what e-juice flavor is the best has inspired some contentious debates.

Language
Do vapers have their own language? Does the word “dripper” mean anything to you? No? Then you probably don’t vape. Vaping jargon is so expansive that a website dedicated to the e-cigarette community, E-Cigology has built a glossary of e-cigarette jargon for the uninitiated. Not only is there a unique language but vaping has its own dictionary!

Conclusion
Is vaping a culture? Even by the fairly high standards of sociology, it seems fairly clear that the e-cigarette community fulfills the definition of a culture and it has become a very fulfilling hobby for millions of people. When Herbert A. Gilbert patented his concept of a “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” in 1963, he was simply trying to find a healthier way for smokers to smoke, and as a result he could be considered the patriarch of a whole new American culture.

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