Keep Calm and Vape On – Understanding Vape Culture

To the uninitiated, vaping culture is anything from bizarre to outright douche-y. Blowing huge “clouds,” clad in baggy board shorts, sporting huge beards and freaky flesh-tunnels, the stereotypical vaper isn’t easy to empathize with for most people. The community at large is very much tarred with the same brush – e-cigs are referred to as “mouth fedoras” and there is an implicit assumption is that most vapers are show-off losers competing to blow the biggest clouds.

Most vapers take issue with ideas like this. Of course, we don’t feel like douchebags. We don’t all have huge beards and flesh-tunnels. We don’t all compete to blow the biggest clouds. But that doesn’t really address the core issue – why is there even a vape culture to begin with? Why aren’t vapers more like smokers: ordinary people with a habit they tend to keep quiet about?

By way of explanation, here is a detailed look at vaping culture, what it’s all about and most importantly of all, why it exists.

Why Does Vaping Culture Exist?

What appears to be the most difficult question about vaping culture is actually one of the easiest aspects to understand, and it underpins all of the other seemingly bizarre elements of vape culture.

To see where vape culture comes from, you first need to think about smoking. Aside from the pipe or cigar-toting hobbyist elements, there isn’t much of a “smoking culture.” In fact, smokers are widely-treated as social outcasts, made to stand outside to engage in their habit – and often far from the entrances to buildings too – and are generally looked down upon. Very few smokers are proud of their habit, and substantial numbers want to stop. Ultimately, smoking is seen – even among smokers – as a dirty habit that is best avoided, and certainly not something to celebrate.

But some smokers, upon learning about e-cigarettes, make the switch to the non-combusted alternative. This changes things entirely. When they quit smoking, they’re rightfully proud, and their e-cigarette is what helped them do it. Organizations like the Royal College of Physicians in the UK proclaim vaping to be vastly safer than combusted cigarettes, and so the smokers have ultimately made a positive step for their health.

Arguably more importantly, vaping removes many of the reasons for the stigma attached to smoking. Vaping doesn’t stain your teeth. It doesn’t make you smell like an old ashtray. It doesn’t bother most people who are around you while you vape. And it’s much less likely to lead to health problems in you or other people exposed to vapor.

This pride at quitting smoking and the casting off of the stigma associated with smoking produces a key change in the smoker’s attitude. As a vaper, he or she has switched from a habit which bothers most people to one that bothers very few, and from one that poses a significant health risk to one that science is increasingly suggesting poses much less of one. This leads smokers to embrace the technology, and to hold their e-cig with pride. They’ve taken a positive step, and they’re not ashamed of their nicotine addiction in the same way they used to be. Telling each other to “vape on” is an explicit expression of that pride: it says “you’re doing yourself a huge favor – keep going, buddy.”

This is ultimately the root of vaping culture. Removing the shame and stigma from nicotine, e-cigarettes engender enthusiastic support from ex-smokers who otherwise would be huddled outside a dingy bar in the rain sucking on sticks of burning tobacco. It gives us a new identity, and gives us a new sense of confidence in our ability to take control of our lives. 

The Vaping Community: Gear-Heads, Cloud-Chasers, Juice Connoisseurs, DIY-ers and More

So vape culture is arguably a product of pride at quitting and empowerment at being able to enjoy nicotine in a form less obtrusive to other people and less harmful to ourselves, but what is the focus of vape culture? Are there subgroups within the vaping community?

Gear Discussions

There aren’t really “subgroups,” necessarily, but it is true that different vapers have different interests. Much of the community is built around vaping technology and e-juice, as you may expect. Vapers talk about new mods, atomizers and other vaping gear, and recommend new flavors and e-liquid brands to each other.

This might seem like a superficial sort of conversation to have, but with the mind-bogglingly massive array of vaping devices on the market, there is quite a lot to discuss. There is a general quest for better performance (in the same way you might look for a more efficient smartphone or laptop), but with vaping (like most other things) this means more complexity.

For example, rebuildable devices offer great vapor production, flavor and overall performance, but require you to build your own coil. Different “RDAs” (rebuildable dripping atomizers) have different approaches to making the building process as user-friendly as possible. Being able to discuss this and suggest alternative devices or otherwise help any vapers having problems is a big part of the vaping community.

Cloud-Chasing and Flavor Chasing

There are other similar conversations that are common in vaping culture too. For example, some vapers look for the biggest “clouds” (i.e. the most vapor they can get) and some want to maximize the flavor they get from their e-liquid, known as cloud-chasers and flavor-chasers. These groups of vapers also trade tricks and tips for getting the sort of performance they’re looking for, and represent another reason for the more techy discussions that form part of vaping culture and the community.

Saving Money with DIY Vaping

Finally, there is a big focus on saving money in vaping culture. One of the best ways to do this is by building your own coils, and vapers share tricks and tips among the community to help anybody inexperienced in wrapping coils. Another way to save money is by mixing your own e-juice, and a subset of the vaping community shares recipes and other advice on getting good results from your mixes and doing everything safely.

The Advocates: The Heart of the Vaping Community

One final subgroup of the vaping community, and an important part of vaping culture, is advocacy for your own and others’ right to vape. With the FDA regulations set to decimate the industry in the US, and other laws around the world clamping down on smokers’ opportunity to switch to vaping – for instance, in Australia, nicotine-containing e-liquid can’t be legally sold – the need for advocacy is greater now than it ever has been.

The advocates are the vapers who challenge new pieces of legislation, raise awareness of the facts about vaping and fight for the rights of both vapers and smokers to maintain their access to reduced harm alternatives. These vapers usually get involved with groups like CASAA, SFATA and others, and help to fight the continuous tide of irrational policies in the area of vaping.

It must be stressed that most vapers don’t actually get out and advocate, but the community rallies around those who do, and it’s a central part of vaping culture. The advocacy element of vaping culture is a lot more about necessity than choice – if vaping wasn’t under threat, advocacy would be a much smaller part of the overall picture. The community feels very much under attack, and that’s why the “keep calm” part of “keep calm and vape on” is particularly salient to vapers.

Does Vaping Culture Have a Problem with “Toxic Masculinity”?

An interesting article in Mic looked at one aspect of vaping culture that has drawn plenty of criticism: the “toxic masculinity” inherent in many of the advertising materials and vaping conventions. Scantily-clad women are widely-used on banner ads and “booth babe” type situations at conventions: as a way to lure in the supposedly male target market.

The big problem is that women obviously vape too, and this can be understandably off-putting to women hoping to get involved in vaping culture. Simply put, advertising to blatantly to one gender risks putting off the other gender, before you even get into the ethical and practical objections to the whole enterprise.

Throw in the image of the stereotypical vaper and you have a potential recipe for disaster. As the Mic article put it:

“Vape culture is having the same growing pains as gaming culture. In both cases, there’s a hardcore community of early adopters who have become intrinsically associated with the technology: For gaming, it’s the basement-dwelling white male nerds; for vaping, it’s the metal-heads with gauged ears and box mods. The hardcore crowd tends to scare away the potential new fans.”

This also hints at the solution: “growing pains” is right. Vaping culture is still in its infancy, and like all cultures, it will evolve as things progress. The problem with the masculine edge to vaping culture is plainly visible, but it’s true that there are still many prominent female advocates, reviewers and other vapers in the community.

In short, the industry in particular does need to move away from male-focused marketing, but there is plenty of time to make changes, and most women can undoubtedly see past the flagrant attempts to appeal to base male interests.

The Core of Vaping Culture: Helping Smokers Switch

While vaping culture is far from perfect, the core of what vape culture is all about is undoubtedly positive. All of the techy discussions about different gear and new flavors might seem like enthusiasts just wanting to get more vapor or better flavor, but every vaper is ultimately somebody who would be smoking otherwise. Not only do these discussions ensure that vaping remains a satisfying alternative to smoking – and thereby help vapers avoid relapses – but it provides a rich treasure trove of information for smokers struggling to make the switch.

Directly helping smokers quit is also a common feature of vape culture. Smokers trying to quit regularly post on forums for tips and advice for how to get the most out of the new e-cigs, and for more general advice on quitting smoking. Seeing one of these conversations and all the support new users get from longer-term vapers really shows that the vaping community is all about helping others, not blowing the biggest clouds.

Another excellent article was published by Daily Dot on vaping culture, and basically revolved around the author heading to a vaping convention with the aim of mocking all the douche-y vapers in attendance. Instead, what he found was a bunch of friendly, helpful people doing their best to support each other, encourage smokers to make the switch and protect the technology that helped them make a positive change in their lives. His comment was “I went to a vaping convention for the lulz and all I got was this stupid empathy.”

For all the cloud-chasing, esoteric terminology and in-depth discussions about seemingly bizarre subjects like wicking efficiency, vape culture really does have a positive message and intent at its heart.

Vape On: Vaping Hotspots Near You

So where does the vaping community meet up? Where can you go to hear people tell each other to “vape on” as a parting, well-wishing message without a hint of irony?

There are tons of vaping hotspots all across America, but if you really want to get integrated into vaping culture, vape meets and conventions are a great place to start. There are quite a few lists of upcoming vape meets, but reviewer Grimm Green maintains a well-stocked list, and although some are outdated, most of them are annual, so you can probably catch one close to you in the new year. However, most of the meets take place around the spring and summer months.

Although the site isn’t as polished as Grimm’s, there is a calendar on the site VapeNetworking which lists many local events at vape stores and other vape-friendly locations. These are a great way to meet other vapers, get involved in advocacy and really start to get under the skin of the vaping community. For UK-based vapers, Planet of the Vapes has a forum dedicated to listing vape meets and other events.

More broadly, it must be said that California has a particularly big vaping scene, with tons of juice and hardware companies, plenty of vape stores and big events like VapeCon held there annually. However, there is a piece of the vaping community pretty much everywhere, so singling California out isn’t completely fair. The simplest approach – wherever you live – is to find a good vape store or a vapor lounge and hang out there, chatting to vapers and meeting new people.

Conclusion – Advocate, Support and Vape On

So there are more techy elements to vaping culture, there is a bit of a masculinity issue in marketing and promotion of vaping products, and like all communities, it isn’t perfect. But at the core of vaping culture is a positive desire to cast off the stigma we suffered as smokers, to help new users quit smoking and to protect the technology for all of the smokers who haven’t made the switch yet. You can hate the vape bros blowing huge clouds and question the marketing practices of some companies, but it’s hard to deny that at its core, vape culture is about making positive changes and helping others do the same.

What else is there to say but “keep calm and vape on” ?

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