Popularity Boosts Vaping From ‘Grassroots’ Subculture Into ‘Small Business Phenomenon’

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

The mainstream success of vaping and its popularity among both men and women trying to quit cigarettes proves a regulatory crackdown will only succeed in harming “tens of thousands of people,” according to a new study.

VaporFi, a popular e-cigarette retailer, culled through roughly 55,000 comments about vaping on Twitter between 2015 and 2017, using longitudinal data to map and analyze the tweets. Researchers found over the past two and a half years vaping has shifted from a taboo subculture into a common practice in both cities and rural environments. Spurred by consumer demand, the industry grew from the ground up in the form of small business vape shops, which organically increased as more people, many former smokers, adopted the habit.

“One of the big differences between tobacco smoking and vaping is that vaping is really a grassroots, small business phenomenon,” Cindy Glover, spokesman for VaporFi, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It has been a fairly democratic market with lots of players, both making the products and retailing them. A lot of people who use e-cigarettes are introduced through a local vape shop.”

The study found the number of vape shops in the U.S. jumped from 3,500 to 10,591 between 2014 and 2016, but notes the current plans of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put those numbers in jeopardy. The FDA wants to federally regulate vaping as tobacco and force businesses to get every product approved through a costly process that will likely bankrupt most shops. (RELATED: Massive Vaping Tax Is Crushing People’s ‘Businesses And Livelihoods’)

“If the proposed FDA regulations force vape shops to close, it’s not only going to affect small business owners from coast to coast, but tens of thousands of people who are pretty passionate about vaping,” Glover told TheDCNF. “It would affect a lot of people in all parts of the country. These are voices from cities and communities everywhere. Urban and rural, male and female.”

By looking at the number of tweets in various regions, VaporFi researchers were able to determine which states and cities are the most popular with vapers. They found Winchester, Nev., had the most enthusiastic vaping community, topping Miami Beach, Fla., and West Hollywood, Calif. Nevada also proved to be the most popular state for vaping, followed by the District of Columbia and California.

“As far as regulations go, California would be a comparatively hostile state, and yet at the grassroots level there is a strong vaping community there,” Glover said.

The researchers said vaping first took hold on the west coast, largely in California, before catching on in the rest of the country. Importantly, researchers noted vaping popularity is roughly the same in rural, suburban and urban environments, although rural users were more active about their support on Twitter.

The study also showed there is little gender divide within the vaping community. While e-cigarettes are often painted in culture as products aimed for men, many women also indulge the devices. Roughly 34.2 percent of vaping related tweets came from women in 2016, a stark change from the prior year when men accounted for 75 percent of vape related tweets. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the gender breakdown for vaping is even closer than Twitter data suggests.

“The most recent CDC study found that 4.1 percent of men and 3.4 percent of females use e-cigarettes everyday,” Glover told TheDCNF. “The percent of tweets from female-owned accounts in 2016 suggests women are gradually becoming more comfortable sharing their vaping experience.”

Proponents of vaping argue critics are ignoring the positive impact the devices are having on current smokers in all regions of the country.

Vaping eliminates up to 95 percent of the risk associated with cigarettes because the majority of cancer-causing chemicals are inhaled through smoke. Public health experts also note vaping devices offer smokers a viable way to reduce health risks to those around them.

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