Words by: Jackie Zhou Art by: Mon Ouk
Whether you’re having a night out with your friends on Chapel Street or grabbing a coffee from a trendy cafe you saw on a Melbourne food blogger’s TikTok, chances are you’ve caught a whiff of one of the many different flavours of a passerby’s vape — or maybe you’ve even tried one out yourself.
So, how is it that vaping exploded in popularity and seemingly dodged the same social stigma of regular cigarettes among young people? Is nicotine consumption once again being normalised, even idealised, like it was in the ’60s, or have the fruity sweet smells tempted us all into giving vaping a try?
Most of my friends vape — or have at least wanted to try — with some even being unable to properly maintain their emotions without their pen. Vaping has become more normalised and welcomed within the general community, especially compared to the inconspicuous affair of purchasing cigarettes and going out the back to have a cheeky dart during work or when you’re out with friends. Common reasons for vaping over regular cigarettes include accessibility, packaging without the gory health warnings, a rising smoking culture and the belief that vaping is healthier for you than smoking. But is vaping really better for you? And is there a reason for its explosive popularity amongst Millennials and Gen Z?
Let’s take a look at the advertising for cigarettes compared to vapes. Cigarettes were banned from being advertised in the ’90s on broadcast radio, television and publications. This was also around the time that their health risks began to be recognised and widely displayed on packaging. Graphic health warnings, often accompanied with the text ‘smoking causes [insert horrifying medical impediment]’ became mandatory in Australia to dissuade the public from smoking and possibly meeting the same gruesome fate as those pictured on the mass-printed packages. Such ubiquitous contempt for smoking has ultimately helped increase discussions about the health risks of cigarettes, and the cultural shift away from smoking is largely thanks to such graphic and accessible information regarding these health risks.
The same, however, cannot be said about vaping.
Vapes work by heating and vaporising nicotine, flavourings and other chemicals, turning it into an aerosol that us youngins can then inhale. Vaping devices do contain far less harmful chemicals compared to tobacco smoke, but they can still cause lung injuries and deaths in people who use modified e-liquids and vapes. And ultimately, we won’t know the long-term effects of vapes for another 20 to 30 years. Vapes and vaping liquids are much harder to study and contain due to their novelty and variety; users can vape water, nicotine, or unknown liquids containing chemicals that are only known by their manufacturers. It’s much harder to enforce advertising regulations around something with so many discrepancies, which makes it difficult for people to know the risks and be dissuaded like they have been with cigarettes.
Although vaping has once again normalised nicotine consumption, it’s still important to acknowledge that vaping doesn’t come without risks — even though it tastes great, that mango vape could be doing some serious damage.