Words: Maia Pachalski (She/Her)
It’s 2023 and dystopian reality is in. Walking down the street, you look up from your screen and remember you’re outside to catch some fresh air. Just as you take a deep breath in, to soothe the impending dystopian doom, you smell freshly baked cookies and everything seems right again. Until you realise you didn’t walk past a bakery, you are just behind a balding middle-aged man smoking a vape. With vaping ever-increasing in popularity, are vapes here to stay for future generations?
The invention of vapes as a less harmful form of nicotine consumption reflects the era of the technological revolution. However, in a fast-paced world, it is essential to slow down and question what these advances are doing to our bodies, our minds, and the planet. Through a lithium battery, vapes heat tobacco-derived nicotine liquids into a vapour which is smokable. With the addition of sweet flavouring, vapes cut out carcinogenic tar and toxins from the regular cigarettes, alongside their smell and harshness. However, with the long term health implications currently undetermined, vapes may be a mask for an all too familiar danger.
Whether you are a McMillan Reading room fashionista taking your third smoking break, or an I-only-smoke-when-I’m-drunk girlie, there is no denial that there is something compelling about smoking. Thanks to the marketing strategies in the 1950s, smoking was successfully associated with being cool and belonging in the 20th century. Later down the line, it became mandatory for tobacco products to display their harmful effects and, as a result, the cigarette “hype” has drastically decreased. Instead, we have been seeing an increase in unwarranted marketing from brands such as Elf Bar who target the under 18s. With discrete and colourful packaging, vapes such as JUUL and Lost Mary have infiltrated the smoking culture with a new twist. Is sucking on a USB cool or are we allowing people to satisfy their craving with no stigma or judgement?
The consumption of tobacco leaves can be found to date back as far as ancient cultures in the first century. Its function has transitioned tremendously since, from ritualistic and medicinal uses, to a class definer and an excuse to take a break at work. Crackdowns on the popularity of smoking have been extremely successful in changing people’s perspectives and, as a result, has decreased the number of smokers. However, due to their introduction to the market as a solution to put a stop to the addiction to nicotine, our perspective on vapes is different. Vapes are sweet, tasty, convenient, cheap, disposable and generally healthier than cigarettes. Realistically it’s the same concept; they’re addictive. There is no denial that vapes have helped many struggling to quit smoking cigarettes. However, many people who might have been put off by the negative effects of smoking are now being compelled to indulge in vaping, leaving them with that very same nicotine addiction they wanted to avoid in the first place. Some have even been found to reverse the trend and start smoking cigarettes to cope with their vaping addiction.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in charge of releasing pleasure and motivation in the brain, alongside aiding in attention, memory, and movement. However, its withdrawal symptoms are associated with many mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The release of dopamine from nicotine, which can also be found from food, exercise, or scrolling on TikTok, is what keeps people coming back. Satisfying this craving has become a lot easier with the ease of sucking on a strawberry flavoured vape. The worry now isn’t so much about how many cigarettes one consumes in a day, but how many puffs they take in an hour. I have seen people take a puff of a vape with every breath they take or vape during lectures, or non stop in their bed on a Monday evening. With other dopamine releasers like many addictive social media platforms having a chokehold on so many of us, should we let vaping become another way to numb our minds?
Although vapes seem less harmful than cigarettes, they still release chemicals such as Acetaldehyde and Diacetyl whose effects when inhaled are undetermined to be safe. Further, their batteries should not be thrown away regularly. Countless vapes can be seen littered in our streets every day and the mass production of lithium ion leaches toxic metals into our water supplies and ecosystems.
Smoking and addiction to nicotine are deeply rooted in our culture. As a result, substitutes like vapes will arise. However, before letting marketing gurus take over, we should invest in making sure they are viable and safe in the long term, and we should not be sugar coating nicotine addictions with pretty colours and flavouring.