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Vapers Are Deviants

A new research paper categorises vapers as a subculture consisting of a male “hardcore of early-adopter metalheads with gauged ears and box mods”

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Dr Frances Thirlway has published a research paper which categorises most vapers as a subculture consisting of a male “hardcore of early-adopter metalheads with gauged ears and box mods”. She says this has created “a classificatory struggle between a subcultural vape industry and its ‘other’, the mainstream vape industry.”

Frances Thirlway is a Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology, University of York (UK). She has carried out research on e-cigarette take-up and on intergenerational trajectories of smoking and quitting in the North of England.

Previously, the Doctor has espoused positive opinions about electronic cigarettes.

Writing on Twitter, Frances said: “Ensuring that vaping is significantly cheaper than smoking may be key to addressing health inequalities because minimising spend on their addiction may be a greater moral concern for working class smokers than minimising risk to health.”

She has identified potential drawbacks from mass adoption: “Users struggled with the time, effort and expense involved in finding the ‘right’ e-cigarette and the frequency of product failure i.e. cheaper tank models splitting, leaking, or bubbling if over-tightened or dropped, and problems with batteries running out or failing to charge.”

Dr Thirlway has conducted research by visiting some vape shops in the North East.

She summarises her findings in Subculture wars: The struggle for the vape industry: “Drawing on a 2-year study, I argue that the UK vape industry is engaged in a classificatory struggle between a subcultural industry and its ‘other’, the mainstream industry.

“I build on Thornton's analysis of club culture to characterise the subcultural vape industry as a community of taste built round a masculine aesthetic and a commitment to authenticity and DIY practice. Its attachment to complex systems and masculine spaces risked excluding customers without specialist knowledge or interest.

“The mainstream industry included tobacco companies which promoted vaping as a complementary category to smoking, linking their own vaping products to historic meanings of the cigarette as a lifestyle product. This task was hampered by the toxic legacy of combusted tobacco and its increasing reversion to a generic category rather than a branded product. Finally, the success of the price-focused vaping industry has been largely overlooked, but suggests that for most consumers, electronic cigarettes are still a contrasting category to combusted tobacco and are purchased largely on price.

“I conclude that the exclusion of a feminised, classed ‘other’ is a defining element of subcultural formation, itself an overwhelmingly male mechanism of group identity construction.”

Dr Frances Thirlway will be speaking at this year’s E-cigarette Summit at the Royal College of Physicians in London. Her topic is Listening to young smokers and vapers talking about disposables.


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Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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