Since the beginning of October, I have started my first experience as a cultural anthropologist, conducting an ethnography project about vape culture. This was such an amazing opportunity to learn more about a culture I did not understand, had no experience with, and I met a lot of wonderful individuals willing to help me.
I went to a vape shop in my college town with interview questions and an open mind to talk about why vaping has become such a big part of 2018 culture and dig beyond the negative and misunderstood stereotypes.
After two months, my project has come to an end. My presentation is due today, and I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to share my favorite ideas of the study. This was originally my paper that was due last Sunday, but I think it gives off a great feeling of success and assurance that I have chosen the correct major.
Thank you for all of your support, and I hope you enjoy:
When I walked into the vape shop, I was not quite sure what to expect. We have all heard a lot about vaping: the negatives, the positives, the mere opinions of non-vapors. The one thing I had not heard was the experience of vapors themselves. There are many perspectives to every issue, habit, and condition and, sometimes, it is difficult to receive the information needed to assess it completely. This closure was what I sought after in my ethnography project on vape culture.
My first encounter in the shop was worrisome, but only because the owners and I had a miscommunication about our meeting. I left that day, depressed and scared that my project was not going to happen the way I wanted it to. After all, the content of my project was about practicing cultural relativism, but it could seem judgmental from the outside perspective. I was afraid people would not want to participate due to feeling intruded upon. Honestly, I was afraid I did not understand the culture enough to not be critical.
Conducting my interviews in the vape shop, a small corner of a shopping center, I was surprised by what I observed. The owners were extremely kind and cooperative, very helpful for my project. They expressed to me that they were not current vapors or smokers; they simply owned a business that sold these items. Though the merchandise is a money-maker, they used their shop for the greater good.
The owners had a clear opinion about cigarettes and their effects on people as well as the wrong-doing they noticed from the cigarette companies. For example, not listing every ingredient on the package so it is unclear exactly what people smoke. The owners look down upon smoking cigarettes. They do recognize the health risks in vaping as well, but they consider vape much better for people as a whole.
Even from the interviewees who did not work at the establishment, a lot of statements were made against cigarettes. This may seem surprising to people who denounce vape and cigarettes both because of the common viewpoint that “vape is as bad or worse for you than cigarettes”.
From the research, I pulled more depth from their perspectives than one could find on Facebook or on the news, places I frequently see ads warning people to stay away from vape, especially considering the new executive order from Governor Hickenlooper for a Vape-Free November.
The wonderful thing about this research was seeing the opinions and thoughts from outside of my “vaporless bubble”, something I never had the opportunity to truly accomplish. In society, it is facile to latch on to an idea we truly know nothing about. In the ethnography research, stepping away from biases, I could finally sit down with people with a different culture, even just in vape habits, and think about how much diversity we have in this world and how we can let that blind us from other struggles that may be going on. It was refreshing to allow myself to experience something new.
Many people vape to escape cigarettes, and I find that power they hold remarkable.
I have a constant goal in my everyday life to accept everybody, to let myself open up to people different than me. Nothing in this world will work if we categorize everyone and distance ourselves. We must have community to keep the world afloat. This project really helped me keep an open mind, something I was to continuously practice throughout my life and discover just how much kinder the world can be by trying to understand one another.
This experience firmly defined my beliefs on making the world a better place. There are many things society needs to work on, and I believe the basis of that is kindness. I have had this thought in my heart for a very long time, but this experience gave me more cognizance that goes hand in hand with kindness.
By accepting others, we can truly allow ourselves to be a community, accept our differences and help each other out. Instead of rejecting every single person who vapes, we can look behind the surface and see more reasons they choose this lifestyle. For many people, there’s much more to it than “just a fad”. By understanding different cultures within our society, we can all help each other with greater issues.
The most heartwarming conversation I had during my interviews was with one of the shop owners. She had never vaped or smoked in her life at all. When I was explaining my intent, she expressed that her favorite thing about the business is helping people, whether it be from reducing anxiety through vape, providing an alternative to encourage people to stop smoking, or just for creating an atmosphere that gives people a belonging. There’s more to this habit than most people realize.
Her words really stayed with me and gave a great insight into studying any human behavior; kindness can stand behind anything. In circumstances that maybe are not accepted by a lot of society, the least anyone can do is provide comfort, help, and kindness in understanding. Even a vape shop owner with no experience in the field is willing to help people.
My vape study gave me more evidence that kindness can solve anything, from stopping war to understanding our neighbor. There is always more to learn about the people around us and ourselves, and this project really reminded me what humanity is about.