From a fairly low-key start, back in the early 2000s, e-cigarettes have made steady progress in winning over the general public, and in more recent years, vaping has seen a real surge in popularity. Celebrity endorsements may have helped, and the stark health warnings about smoking may have finally started to hit home, but vaping has very definitely come of age, and it has even acquired a little bit of cool along the way.
With so much bad press for regular cigarettes nowadays, it looks like the gloves are off for an epic battle between smoking and vaping, and in this article, we take a look at how vaping has recently become much more visible in popular culture, including in films, TV programmes and gaming. We also consider what e-cigarettes are intended to portray about a character in a film, TV programme or game, compared with regular cigarettes.
Almost since the birth of the film industry, smoking has been portrayed as cool, sophisticated, edgy and rebellious. Let’s take a look at some recent films, to see whether vaping is portrayed in the same light.
In this 2010 film, Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo, a hard-headed criminal posing as an American mathematics teacher. During the film, Depp explains to Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) that the smoke coming from his vape device is in fact, just water vapour. The inference is that Depp’s character is smart and tech savvy, although Elise does hit back at this, suggesting that vaping is toeing the line a little, rather than being a truly free spirit. As the first prominent cinematic appearance for vaping, this film drew the lines of engagement for an ongoing battle between vaping and smoking.
Another starring role for vaping came in 2014’s Drive Hard, featuring John Cusack as professional thief, Simon Keller. In the film, Keller carries out an armed bank robbery, and forces retired racing car driver, Peter Roberts (Thomas Jane) to be his getaway driver. As they drive along, the two get to know each other in more depth, and Cusack’s character is seen to be a little bit more of a decent guy than first appears. This time, having the character vaping seems to play on the notion of things not being quite what they seem.
The rise of vaping has been just as noticeable on the small screen as it has in the blockbuster movies of Hollywood. Here are just a couple of examples:
This multi-season, award-winning US crime drama features some big names, including Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams. The detectives work on some pretty horrifying crimes, while trying to deal with their own personal problems at the same time. In the second series, California Highway Patrol Officer, Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), is driving with detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), when he suddenly notices that she’s vaping. ‘Is that a fucking e-cigarette?’, he asks, with the suggestion being that vaping is something that is soft or weak. It perhaps also hints at the idea that Ani is something of a reformed character, with something to hide.
Having landed on US screens for the first time in 2016, Billions is already set for a third series. Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and his wife, Lara (Malin Akerman), who is a former nurse, share a vape in a scene from the second episode. The two are smart, bright and witty characters, which hints at vaping being seen as a healthier, upmarket and tech savvy alternative to smoking.
In The Sims 4, Sims have access to The Bubble Blower, a hybrid between a vape device and a hookah, with flavours including Fairy Fizz, Cosmic Encounter and Deepest Plum. Inevitably, it wasn’t long after the release of Sims 4 that the Sims fan community worked out a hack to allow Sims to choose real gases, such as radon, argon or krypton. Don’t try that at home, folks – better stick with proper e-liquids!
Our round-up of appearances across film, TV and gaming suggests that vaping has very much moved into the mainstream, and more appearances seem likely in future. What’s your view - are producers showing vaping in a fair and accurate way, or is there still some way to go before on screen vaping catches up with real life? Is the perception of vaping and what it says about someone changing over time? From our comfy cinema seats and sofas at home, it certainly looks that way.