I’m surprised we never saw this coming. We have always imagined ways in which future technology was going to elevate us, to enhance the ways in which we live our lives or even just add a touch of novelty and freshness to a long-stagnant aspect of daily life.
“It’s the future, where’s my flying car?” is a phrase you still hear. We’ve reduced the media-intake experience to a digital level, and while we may bemoan the loss of ‘ownership’ in a culture which eschews physical mediums for data which we are effectively licensed, it’s still a kick that Star Trek saw it coming.
There are electronic books with ‘smart ink’ now. Headsets for fully-immersive viewing experiences. And no one needs yet another trite examination of the ubiquitous nature of the smart phone (I’m surprised we’re even using the word ‘phone’ at this point).
But no one saw e-cigs coming, and that surprises me.
I wonder, did we simply think we were going to ‘get over’ smoking before technology stepped in? I’m racking my brains trying to think of sci-fi examples featuring updated, upgraded nicotine-intake-vessels and I’m almost coming up empty. Watchmen has those weird steel balls people smoke through, though it’s still clearly smoke they’re inhaling. Metal Gear Solid 2 features new fangled cigarettes with harmless second-hand smoke. But for all intents and purposes these appear to be slight twists on an old standard. I suppose as far as we were concerned, smoking was here to stay, as bizarre a thought as that was.
Hell, in Thank You For Smoking they go out of their way to try and devise some fantastical technology which would prevent cigarettes igniting a high-oxygen environment for an upcoming sci-fi feature.
Then came the Vape Age, and things changed.
Initially, they were met with scorn. I had an old crusty punk make fun of mine outside a pub when I first got one, and people would look derisively at my metal/plastic apparatus while they rolled up and stepped outside for a fag. But then, that was the first moment where all of a sudden they didn’t seem so ridiculous. I’ve sold e-cigs, have done since they took off, and I did notice that sales shot up right around the time stepping outside the pub for a smoke was a bit of a wind/rain/ice affair.
The e-cig people are onto something quite special; they’ve managed to somewhat bypass the laws concerning the advertisement of tobacco products. While Marlborough can’t slap a logo onto an F1 car or cowboy-oriented billboard anymore, the vape magnates can splash out on big notices about their ‘quitting’ tools. See, that’s the primary fallacy at play here; ostensibly, electronic cigarettes exist to help people give up smoking. It reduces the health drawbacks tremendously, limits how far you need to go out of your way just to inhale some nicotine and draws your attention to the varying strengths of the available oils, encouraging you to gently decrease the potency until you’re nicotine free!
This is, of course, a tremendous lie. Quietly, electronic cigarettes have positioned themselves not just as a means of giving up smoking, but as accessories. The sheer scope of flavours available, the opportunities for customisation that an e-cig provides which you simply can’t get from standard straights and rollies. There are even competing brands (I’m a Kangertech man, myself).
I feel that I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Rachel McAdams’ character using one in season two of True Detective, but I was. And this can only be the beginning; barring some sudden, massive wave of legislation, e-cigs can only grow in popularity.
A dark aspect of the ascendency of vaping can be seen in it’s desirability and accessibility; I’ve lost count of the tweens and teens I’ve turned away trying to buy vape gear. They’re all so surprised too, most of them having been gladly served by less scrupulous traders already, many of them clutching frankly BALLER vape rigs, which I have to try and not appear envious of and ultimately give across a disapproving air.
I feel one of the ways in which e-cigs were able to attain this unexpected platform as The New Smoking is by riding the coattails of marijuana vaping, then ramping straight up into the mainstream. Not to suggest vaping bud is new; people have been doing that since someone first knocked the filament out of a lightbulb, or since the first Australian couldn’t find any rolling papers and so logically put some carving knives on the stovetop. But it has grown in popularity in recent years; I work in a headshop, so I can’t fail to notice these trends. And while traditional vapes may be currently playing second fiddle to that fickle culture’s new favourite toy, the dab rig, many were intensely interested in technology which promises to cut health risks and provide a far more intense high. I suppose it’s not a tremendous leap to assume that people would quickly link the technology to other, less legally-dicey but FAR more habit forming substances they could transmute into thick plumes of cool, sweet steam.
I was playing Mass Effect 2 the other day, and while initially it seemed like a cool character feature for The Illusive Man to be constantly pulling on a tab, it just seems kinda goofy now. Clearly they were going for an X-Files things, Cancer Man sitting in the background pulling on an endless supply of smokes and foiling Mulder and Scully’s investigations. In the past, smoke was a useful visual aid to help depict a character as shrouded in mystery, moral ambiguity and classical style. But things are different now. You can doxx anyone these days, mystery is an illusion. The old-school trappings of noir are going to require a serious rejig if technology keeps this pace, and thanks to vapour having a far less detrimental effect on your lung capacity, it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.