In one of its annual attempts to stay relevant, Oxford Dictionaries named “vape” as its 2014 Word of the Year. Media outlets — including this one — seized upon it as a sign that vaping has gone mainstream.
A drive around Denver, where recreational cannabis sales have been legal since Jan. 1, reinforces that presumption. An increasing number of vaping-focused stores compete for money and attention, just as vape-pen ads do in magazines and online. Vaping bars are popping up across the country. Katy Perry vapes. Sarah Silverman vapes. Even Barry Manilow has tried it. So do dozens of new people every day, indoors and outdoors, with cannabis and nicotine oils.
“It’s safer!” people assert, noting the lack of carcinogenic smoke. “It’s also more efficient and discreet,” they add, noting the lack of traditional combustion and fire, the (for the most part) lack of odor, and the sleek, colorful designs of vape pens.
“I feel like vape is a more refined term,” Chandler Davis, a 24-year-old Denver budtender, told The New York Times. “Here and there, we’re making smoking a little classier.”
Are you, though? Vaping in public, much like omnipresent smartphone use, has evolved faster than the social etiquette to deal with it.
It’s certainly healthier and more considerate to non-smokers than a cigarette or a joint. But it’s still a nervous habit. People who smoke cigarettes or joints tend to smoke them and be done with it, at least for substantial stretches of time. Vape pens are constant irritations that lend themselves to endless fiddling. It’s about as classy as meeting someone for lunch only to ignore him or her for your phone, or going to a concert and watching the entire thing through an iPad. You’d almost rather they take the call, send the e-mail, or snap the photo and get on with it.
The act of drinking alcohol, unless it involves being vomited upon from a distance, doesn’t intrude in the same way as vaping, mostly because we’re culturally trained to see drinking as an unremarkable activity. But vaping feels more craven, more selfish. It’s yet another excuse to deny something — a buddy, a performer, a movie — your full attention instead of constantly pacifying your addiction.
I’ll admit, I think “vape” is a dumb-sounding word and hitting a vape pen generally looks about as cool as wearing a Bluetooth headset. I’m also partial to the idea that it’s a “half-high,” a poseur way of consuming cannabis and/or nicotine. “Vape pens can be good for new consumers, but for a seasoned smoker, a vape pen is not fulfilling,” stoner guru Paul Tokin told The Cannabist this month. On top of that, “Vape pen highs are substandard and wispy compared to a high from smoking or vaping with a home vaporizer.”