Dr. Emery Eaves will be heading to Minneapolis November 16 for the American Anthropological Association annual meeting to present a poster about her research on vaping. The title of her poster is “Vaping as a Counter-Aesthetic to the Pursuit of Public Health Wellness: Narratives of Freedom and Social Responsibility in Substance Use”.
Sometimes opposing and sometimes drawing from the debate in public health, a community of activists is working to shape or counter legislation related to Electronic Nicotine Delivery Devices (ENDDs) (e-cigarettes). As the FDA and public health researchers debate the utility of outright bans versus allowing ENDDs to exist as “harm reduction,” activists call upon users—known as “vapers”—to come together to resist legislation intended to, in their words (and those of advertisements), deny their “freedom.” Although research is underway to determine the safety of ENDDs, little is known about the so-called “vaping community” and how calls to join the cause appeal to youth and others who struggle with addiction and nicotine dependence. Drawing from preliminary ethnographic research on the “vaping community,” this paper engages Bourdieu’s notion of a working-class counter-aesthetic to consider how Vapers avoid the stigma of smoking tobacco while combating the potential of stigma associated with vaping. This paper considers conspicuous consumption of ENDDs as a counter to narrow definitions of health and wellness that those who struggle with addiction may not be willing or able to pursue. The community is here explored as a response to previously experienced stigma, preempting it by showing off and inviting members to feel they are part of a vibrant community, rather than failed citizens. This paper considers how activism is, in a sense, work to shape the stigma associated with an emergent drug. Rather than accept stigma, users actively create alternate versions of wellness and social responsibility.