While I’m nowhere close to Jonathan Franzen’s irritability level, I do like to complain about the late-capitalist modernity of which I, born in 1981, am assuredly a child. Lately my gripe synapses have been firing like mad over vaping, which has gained enough cultural momentum, both practically and rhetorically, to get named the Oxford Dictionary’s 2014 word of the year. I detest it: the self-congratulatorily “cool” practice, the ugly enabling technology, the cultural and capitalistic vocabularies that have congealed around it (1).
Now, given that I wouldn’t let my first-year writing students pass off a personal opinion as self-evident fact (I think vaping is breathtakingly lame, thus it is), I’ve yoked together a provisional list–just some working notes that might lead to a genuine essay–of reasons for my antipathy. I hope I don’t seem like a youngish person playing curmudgeon, because people like that are boring phonies. While reading, light up if you feel like it. Even vapers are invited; it’s a free country, bruh. Here goes.
1) I’ll be honest about the age factor: vaping is largely a practice of the relatively young, and I’m getting older, even if I’m not yet “at the stage / Where one starts to resent the young,” as Auden puts it in “A Walk After Dark.” To an extent, it is inevitable that I–that we–begin to feel alienated by at least some of the ideologies and behaviors of newer generations. This is true even for someone in my line of work, teaching, which is necessarily founded upon a deep love for the potential and freshness of the young. Still, in my day, we sat on the steps of the English Department building and smoked our Camels (which we had walked miles to buy) down to the dang filter.
2) A lot of ear-gauged, face-pierced, sloppy-tatted, snapback-wearing extremo dweebs have embraced vaping. Just look at the photos in this excellent mini-ethnography of the UK vape scene that George Nelson wrote for Vice a few weeks ago. Do you want to hang with these guys (and they are mostly guys)? The scene is nearly as bad as people who are vocally reeeeaaaaally into weed. Nelson also reports that many manufacturers have comically “hip” names, like the American company Space Jam and E-Gains. Space Jam and E-Gains! Finish laughing so you can get to the next entry.
3) The material one vapes sounds repugnant. It’s called e-juice, for fuck’s sake. E-juice. The flavor names are reminiscent of the off-brand condoms sold in bodegas, or, in some cases, of the lacquered sugar candies my grandma kept in glass dishes for visitors. Druid, a.k.a. liquorice! Summer Pudding! Nacho cheese! Cool mint! Straight-up old-fashioned Bubblegum like you chewed in fourth grade! What grown-up child needs everything densely and artificially flavored? Besides, know what else has a pronounced, nuanced flavor? Good tobacco.
4) Vape bars and lounges: Ooooh! You mean I get to pay money to sit around and not drink alcohol? Oh, vaping gives you a little buzz? Well let me in, doorman. And here I was just gonna order a bottled water in Starbucks. These vaper dens are like bad acne on LA’s face; I assume this is true in other cities, too. Smoke a fucking hookah, at least–not that those are any cooler.
5) Sorry, mom, but despite decades of official scolding based on nasty medical facts, a cigarette looks cool, cooler than a vape rig; and I say this as someone who quit smoking American Spirits five years ago after growing disgusted by the taste of smoke. Imagine Marlene Dietrich or Jackson Pollack pausing to languidly or hungrily push the button on a plastic vape pen.
6) Hey, people who claim vaping/e-cigs are healthy, slow your roll: the medical community isn’t exactly in agreement with you yet. And if you hate secondhand smoke, well, vaping disgorges plenty of that.
7) Perhaps most prominently, vaping is part of a wider, genuinely troubling, infantile desire–one that originated in but is hardly confined to the US–to have pleasure without consequence. It’s of a piece with the consumption discourse of “light” cigarettes, Michelob Ultra, reduced-fat chips, and chocolate-flavored Weight Watchers snacks.
That’s all for now. Add to my provisional list in the comments–or argue loudly with me–if you are so moved. Look, everyone, my forehead didn’t even turn red while I wrote all this. Small victories in consciousness.
1) I’m mainly talking about tobacco-based vaping here, although weed smokers who vape also kind of bug me–just get a pipe or roll something like your forefathers and mothers. But if your vaping is medicinal (say you’re a cancer patient dealing with nausea from chemo, or someone struggling with COPD), then by all means, vape up.