Smoking? That’s Out of Style. So how Has Vaping Changed Pop Culture Over the Years?

Photo: Rafael Barros

Oftentimes pop culture embraces what is trending in the mainstream population. It is also usually associated with young people and the content that they are consuming. The items within pop culture such as music, tv series, movies, fashion, or technology have a mass appeal, which means a large target audience. One of the latest trends to track within pop culture is vaping. Its usage has begun to permeate the media. What does this mean for the hobby? Let’s Explore.

Pop Culture & Cigarettes

Traditionally, on-screen, the rule was that if you wanted to create a cool, brooding or rock ‘n’ roll type character, they had to be seen smoking. From James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause to John Travolta in Grease to Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Likewise, if you want to make a bad boy, they need to be on screen with a cigarette. Although it wasn’t just the male characters who could be found smoking, just think of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, she was rarely seen without her elegant cigarette holder. These portrayals were a sign of the times, a reflection of the society in which they were made. In the 1960s and 1970s, almost 70% of men and 40% of women were smoking. However, this number has dropped significantly in recent years, with less than 15% of adults over the age of eighteen indulging in this habit. This drop in smoking is reflective in its decline in pop culture. E-cigarettes do not have the same negative health or hygiene connotations, but they carry the same visual effect, which makes them perfect for the screen.

Pop Culture & Vapes: Cigalikes

The first vaping device to enter the mainstream were cigalikes which are e-cigarettes that are designed to look like real cigarettes. They came in a variety of colours which spoke directly to their likeness to normal cigarettes. Some vapers today might struggle to comprehend a time when people thought of cigalikes as fashionable or cool. They were, however, an important step for the vaping industry. They were a marker in the evolution of vapes. Cigalikes acted as a visual cue to let people know that there were other options instead of smoking. They were widely accessible and easy to use, which also helped to launch them into popularity initially. However, most cigalikes were single-use, which means once they are done, they are thrown away. This means that they are often the cheapest vape devices on the market but at a significant cost to the environment.

Pop Culture & Vapes: Vape Pens

The next vaping device to enter the zeitgeist was the vape pen. This device was the favourite of several celebrities, including Sophie Turner and Leo DiCaprio, who were among the celebrities papped with their vape pens over the last few years. Vape pens are small devices; most of them are around the same size as a permanent marker. Buy and large, vape pens also have far better batteries than cigalikes. On average, they last around four times longer between charges. The better battery also allows for a more stable vapour production. Vape pens usually work on a sort of pod or refilling system. The pod is removable and easily swapped out when the juice runs out, or the pen can be taken apart and the juice topped up. This makes vape pens more sustainable than cigalikes too. In short, vape pens were a huge improvement on cigalikes which is why they remain as popular as they do today.

Pop Culture & Vaping: Box Mods

As the vaping industry began to mature and come into its own, the vaping community experienced a schism that saw it break off into two distinct subsets. The first subset of the vaping industry simply considered vaping to be a means to an end. E-cigarettes are just a less risky way to get some nicotine into their system than smoking, and that is it. However, for the other subset, vaping is about so much more. It is an endless cycle of trying to improve the vaping experience and progress it. Vaping for these people is a hobby and a passion, and it is for those people that the box mod was made. A box mod is exactly as it sounds – it is a box-shaped vaping device, usually around the same sort of size as a pack of cigarettes or a deck of cards. The mod usually holds one or more battery cells and has a glass tank that holds the e-liquid. They are capable of producing truly humongous plumes of smoke which is why they are popular devices for cloud chasers, and they are the device of choice for vaping competitions too. Using a box mod vape is different to smoking a cigarette; there are other vapes that offer a more similar experience which is why ex-smokers do not usually start with a box mod but transition over time if they do at all. Box mods tend to work better with lower nicotine liquids because of the vapour that they produce. Despite a lower strength, the user still absorbs enough nicotine through the amount of vapour inhaled.

Pop Culture & Vaping: Pod Systems

As great as the box mods are, especially for experienced vapours, their throne in pop culture was usurped by the refillable pod system. Pod systems are perhaps the most en vogue today; they are incredibly fashionable and make up some of the hottest devices in the vaping industry today. Unlike cigalikes, they do not resemble cigarettes at all, nor do they try to. Most vapes which use a pod system are relatively small; some of them are little bigger than a memory stick, some are as big as a nail file; it depends on the brand. As vaping became more popular and people got into vaping independently of their history of smoking cigarettes or lack thereof, designers had more reign. Vaping devices no longer had to resemble cigarettes; you can find pod systems in a number of shapes today, from the utilitarian rectangle to more whimsical shapes like teardrops. The refillable pod systems are an indicator that the vaping industry has truly come full circle. During its initial iterations, it seemed that every new device was bigger than the last. However, these days smaller, more subtle devices are more popular. They are less bulky and cumbersome to carry around, and they arguably look more elegant when in use.

The Bottom Line

Vaping as an activity or hobby has forged its own distinct identity in recent years. Many vapers who made the switch from cigarettes rarely think about them at all. This shift has done wonders for the culture around smoking and vaping as well as showcasing the other options available to people who crave a nicotine kick. As vaping continues to grow in popularity, its use in mainstream media will only increase. Vaping’s place in pop culture is evidenced in a number of ways, from its use in films like The Tourist or Z Nation to music videos and magazine covers. Once you have noticed this trend, it is hard to stop spotting it in your media.