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When faced with such behaviors it is easy to become defensive. Almost everybody who embraces vaping understands the good reasons behind it and many ex-smokers have every right to be proud of it. With nothing to be ashamed of, vapers continue unperturbed and many even go out of their way to vape despite the reactions around them.
But here’s the thing: almost everybody else does not understand what vaping is or why you might choose to partake. And as the vaping culture grows, vapers pushing back against the social stigma are making vaping more of an anti-establishment statement lending validity to others who see it as rude and offensive.
To break this cycle, we need to examine how and why the stigma operates.
We start, of course, with smoking. The younger generations in our society today have grown up among a plethora of anti-smoking propaganda. In an effort to decrease smoking rates, the messaging has slowly shifted to advertisements and laws that are less anti-smoking than anti-smokers. Of course, this is all for good reason. Smoking is addictive, carcinogenic and harmful to bystanders. If only social pressure could be as powerful a tool in encouraging people to quit as it is to start.
Ideally, the stigma against smoking acts positively, championing those who manage to kick the habit, but more often it works negatively, teaching us to be offended by smoke and by smokers, endorsing the stern and harsh reactions against smoking even when they come from complete strangers.
When it comes to vaping, an outsider struggles to see the difference. The water vapor from e-cigarettes seems just like the harmful and offensive smoke from tobacco cigarettes. And all too often vapers strengthen this association by playing into the negative stereotypes for smokers, congregating together, fogging up rooms, leaving cartridges lying around or pressuring others to join.
The appearance and behaviors expected from smokers conjures up the attitudes reserved for smokers. Amidst those emotions and prejudgments, curiosity about what vaping is or what it involves will be an insignificant afterthought at best.
The solution, therefore, is for vapers to do all that they can to divorce the image of vaping from that of smoking. If you’re so certain that vaping is okay, the best course of action isn’t to resent those who don’t understand but to take every opportunity to educate them. Even if that means you must be the first to show respect.
Always assume that most people who are offended by vaping are reacting out of ignorance, and try to avoid the unappealing behaviors exhibited by many smokers, listed above. Answer questions factually without any condescension. Politely ask permission before beginning to vape around other people – even if they deny it, you're asking will surprise them and may give you an opportunity to explain how it differs from cigarette smoking.
Take it upon yourself to always act an ambassador for vaping and vaping culture, without actively trying to convert or to confront anyone else. If enough vapers are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps enough of them will return the favor and the stigma will finally fall away.