Vaping is Forever

The Rise of Vaping and the Death of a National Pastime

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

“I need a Cigarette”

This line sits poised on the lips of dozens of financial advisors and accountants as the New York Stock Exchange draws its week to a close.

TGIF.

It’s a line that has passed every smoker’s lips more than once. This simple expression of wants and desires straddles the gap between habit and addiction.

It’s synonymous with a breaking point, and it’s been all but silenced.

In place of it: an endless cloud of vacuous vape smoke and a new stigma around an age-old habit.

At one time, cigarettes were considered fashionable accessories, something that punctuated moments and ideas; vaping breaks this tradition and replaces it with, well, nothing,

The Marlboro Man contemplates; Image courtesy of itslikethis.org

To be clear, I’m not defending cigarettes or the ruthless ad campaigns that hooked generation after generation on souped-up highly addictive additives.

I’m talking about the death of a cultural staple, the death of the act of smoking, an act that permits one to pause for contemplation without question, an act that offers a break from everyday life.

For decades, a cigarette was a culturally accepted avenue to these breaks, a foothold to a conversation or, perhaps, a bridge out of one. Cigarettes provide space for pause and reflection and, thanks to 75 years of advertisements and product placement, they made us look and feel cool, too.

Vaping doesn’t provide the same kinds of boutique benefits as big tobacco. It also doesn’t have the promotional backing or the widespread universal support either. It’s undeniable, the nicotine scene is changing.

Cigarettes are single use. They are singularly dispensable

Vaping breaks apart the smoker’s collective, a collective that endured persecution and prohibition at the turn of the 21st century. It undermines the benevolent gesture of sharing a cigarette.

Vape Pens are Forever

Vape pens change our relationship with nicotine, right down to the delivery method. The initial personal and monetary investment of selecting and purchasing a vape pen instantly makes the device — and the connection to it — more intimate.

Vaping reminds us that we’re hooked, that our relationship with it is strictly about nicotine.

Imagine asking a passing stranger to bum a few hits off of his vape pen. It’s almost like asking him to share his vibrator.

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

Real vs synthetic, organic vs mechanical, dirty vs clean, these binary pairings align with contemporary debates regarding our relationship with the modern world. Vaping is a footnote in the passage on technological dependencies and the increasing detachment from our present realities.

Make no mistake, vaping isn’t a suitable replacement for cigarettes. Frankly, there is no suitable replacement.

For Humphrey Bogart, cigarettes were something that sculpted and shared the scene. Replace Bogart’s sidekick cigarette in Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942) with a vape pen or Clint Eastwood’s trademark cigarillo in Fistful of Dollars (Leone, 1964) with an e-cigarette and you lose that iconographic image altogether.

Cigarettes have no-doubt cultivated an image. Who will assume the mantle for the Marlboro Man? Who or what does that icon look like?

Just like men have had to reconcile their own identities and relationships with history, maybe it’s time to renegotiate our cultural relationship with nicotine.

Maybe that’s exactly what vape pens are offering.

No matter how glamorous vaping pretends to be, it carries an undeniable associative image with addiction.

Eastwood’s trademark cigarillo in Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars; image courtesy of theirishtimes.com

A Personal Note

November marks the 1 year anniversary that I gave up cigarettes. It was out of curiosity — not cessation — that I tried vaping. I tried it well before going cold turkey and I can’t say I ever ‘got’ anything out of it.

Maybe I’m not a career smoker.

In the end, I had a one-a-day habit. I used to punctuate the day perched in my third story San Francisco window with a cigarette. I was wrapped up in the ritual of it, until one day I decided to let it go.

Like my mom, who went cold turkey after devoting nearly 50 years of her life to the habit, I just decided it was time.

I could no longer deny decades of mounting adverse health effects, the veritable deluge of information and imagery that confronts every smoker during their relationship with the habit.

For me, my love affair with tobacco is rooted in the ritual. Once I started rolling my own, it became a hobby more than a habit, and, because of this, it was a hard habit to break.

Just as it was for Bogart, it was the ultimate accomplice, companion and accessory.

With coffee, whiskey or a late-nite walk, a cigarette gives all of these things structure, purpose and meaning; for someone who lacks these things, this can be a very powerful tool.

I miss it for these reasons.

Cigarette perch, photo www.instagram.com/thecrushingdays

I still appreciate the passing scent of second-hand smoke from time to time.

On certain nights, I enjoy it vicariously, stepping in — and through — the second-hand cigarette slipstreams. It transports me back without the head rushes, heart palpitations and next-day hangovers. It soothes that anxious feeling without damaging my lungs and my voice.

Most importantly, it’s my choice, to take, or leave it.


The Infinite Well

Vaping speaks to an insatiability in our everyday lives. Like so many of the intangible resources we consume daily — data, content, media — the infinite well of empty plumes become a bankrupt image of the modern era.

There’s a temporal connection with smoking, a finality to it that is lost with vaping. Moments become infused in cigarettes, and ephemeral time is captured and preserved before it’s flicked back into the ether of nothingness.

Cigarettes demarcate a moment between craving and satiety. Without this clear relationship, how do we know where to draw that line or, better yet, if there even is one?

The death of tobacco is another byproduct of the modern era. Just like the digital wave obliterated nearly every analog marketplace, vape pens replaced cigarettes.

This decidedly futuristic image, almost like it was cherry-picked from films like Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) or The Fifth Element (Besson, 1997), became a new cultural totem seemingly over night.

It inspires that reoccurring question among nostalgics and Futurists:

Is this what the future was supposed to look like?


Andrew is a freelance writer and journalist based in London, UK. When he’s not writing about culture, he’s wandering through the museums, markets and movie houses of his culturally vibrant city.