Psychology of E-Cig Debate

Zen and The Psychology of the Vape Debate

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.”

– Dale Carnegie

Why, you might wonder, do people continue to oppose electronic cigarettes when there is so much evidence proving they can help smokers?

Surely someone surveying the evidence would judge e-cigarettes to lead to more good than harm.

But people are not always logical.

Here’s 4 reasons why some people will always oppose e-cigarettes – and what we can do about it.

1. Inability to Accept Criticism or Condemnation

Vaping meme: reads Anti Vaping? Well Put Up Or Shut Up.

Think of one of your beliefs, opinions or principles.

Now, imagine someone vigorously attacking that belief. They’re not holding back – it goes beyond facts to calling you a liar and an idiot.

How would you feel?

(I’m sure you can think of an example – especially if you’re a Reddit user!)

I’d imagine, even if logic and reason were included, that the nature of the criticism would leave you angry and defensive.

The Vape Debate

Unfortunately, that’s what happens on both sides of (and even within) the vape debate.

In fact, the debate has long since passed the exchange of different viewpoints and settled into an exchange of insults (and even insulting cartoons!) on both sides.

Anti-vaping cartoon.
Cartoon attacking vapers.

Perhaps that’s not surprising, as our culture is often based on conflict rather than seeking understanding.

There is a reason why our passion and anger means we are unlikely to win many allies in the vape debate.

And it all lies in psychology.

Offended Criminals

When a policeman asked “Two Gun” Crowley for his driving licence, the policeman was shot dead.

When the man was finally surrounded by police, he shot at them for an hour.

How did he describe himself, though?

Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one – one that would do nobody any harm.

Al Capone was the same, saying:

I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.

Saint Valentine Day Massacre
Aftermath of the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, carried out by Al Capone’s gang.

How, wondered author Dale Carnegie, can we expect people to react positively to criticism when even criminals fail to see themselves in the wrong.

Obviously, when other people condemn and criticise us, we should think and consider whether the criticism is justified.

But generally we don’t.

Very few people can take criticism graciously. For most of us, being criticized is uncomfortable at best – de-stabilizing (or even devastating) at worst. The ability to take criticism in stride, it seems, is almost universally elusive.

Source: Psychology Today

So the barrage of criticism many anti-vapers receive is not likely to make them see reason, but only to strengthen their hate of vaping.

2. Reciprocation

flowers giftWhen Hari Krishna followers tried to make money by begging, they were very unsuccessful.

So they changed tack.

Instead of begging for money, they gave flowers away.

They would they ask for a donation.

Once people had been given something, it was very hard for them to refuse a donation. That’s because of the principle of reciprocation, a principle that has been found in all cultures across the world.

The opposite is also true. Just as we feel the need to respond to kindness with kindness, we feel the urge to respond to aggression with aggression.

It’s another reason the vape debate is sinking into a mire of insults.

3. Self-Interest

self interest“Wrong incentives are a major cause [of wrong opinions] because truth is hard to assimilate in any mind when opposed by interest.”

– Charlie Munger, American Investor and Billionaire

When somebody’s self-interest is dependent on the way they think, it can be hard to change their mind.

Unfortunately, that’s often the case in anti-vaping advocacy.

They may be funded by pharmaceutical companies who sell nicotine cessation aids, or by states facing near bankruptcy from the loss of tobacco revenues.

(In fact, Professor Polosa told me that many pro-vaping scientists are putting their future funding hopes and careers at risk by speaking out on behalf of vapers.)

There’s also the problem that if vaping solves the smoking problem, who is going to pay the wages of anti-smoking advocates?

4. The Consistency Principle

Consistency PrincipleWhen the Chinese wanted to brainwash American prisoners of war, they often started by getting Americans to make an innocuous statement such as:

“The United States is not perfect.”

Once this statement had been made, a prisoner would be pressed to expand upon the statement.

For example, he might be asked to explain why America was not perfect. Once he had done that, he might be asked to write an essay on it.

Then he might be asked to read his essay out to a discussion group, or his essay would broadcast to the camp with his name.

Crucially, the essay wasn’t (directly) coerced. And once he had put his name to it, and it had been made public, the writer would change his image of himself to match what he had said.

The process was so effective that nearly all American prisoners were said to have collaborated in some way or other.


According to Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, it’s because of the principle of consistency.

We don’t like to change our minds, especially on statements we have made in public.

How does this affect the vape debate?

Well, consider that many of those raging against e-cigarettes have been campaigning against cigarettes for decades.

(In fact, some have speculated that if e-cigarettes had a different name they might have been much more successful.)

In the last 5 years or so campaigners have done the same against electronic cigarettes, often very loudly and publicly.

The very fervour they have done so (often using insults and demeaning cartoons) means that it becomes very difficult for them to change their minds, no matter what evidence they view.

What can we learn

While some people who are against vaping will likely always be opposed to vaping, there is still hope.

Take Louise Ross, for example.

Despite being initially opposed to electronic cigarettes (and expressing her views in a newspaper), she changed her mind when she heard directly from vapers who had been helped by e-cigarettes.

How can we win more converts to our cause?

Here’s 4 ideas.

1. Become a Zen Vaper

“Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also…”

– Matthew: 5

We’ve seen direct criticism and aggression is a very ineffective way to persuade.

Staying calm and respectful is therefore vital when debating electronic cigarettes.

That can be very hard with invective and anger flying around:

John Ashton Twitter rage.

But consider all the feuds that have started from a small incident – and escalated to something major.

Staying calm – and logical – is harder than replying with anger, but much more effective – as the reply from SJ the Songbird above shows!

2. Share Heartfelt Stories

write letterWhile studies and evidence can be powerful, the human mind is conditioned to respond to stories, such as these on the CASAA website.

Dale Carnegie also pointed out that almost all of us want to do the right thing, and suggest that we appeal to the nobler motive.

Perhaps that’s why many politicians, many of whom have received hundreds of heartfelt letters from vapers, have switched from being neutral about vaping to being pro-vaping.

(It also helps that quite a number of politicians now vape!)

So keep on writing those letters, and keep on sharing those stories!

3. Social Proof


If psychology is sometimes against us, sometimes it is also with us.

The millions of people who have stopped smoking tobacco cigarettes because of e-cigarettes is stronger than any study which claims e-cigs don’t work.

And vaping is becoming so common, almost everyone knows somebody who has been helped by e-cigarettes. In fact, when I met one MEP who was cautiously pro-vaping, her staff were able to tell me that they knew people who had been helped by e-cigs.

I am sure that made a difference!

4. Authority

Vapers polluted cities quote by Professor Polosa.

Do you know why one Professor refused to give his title when he met people when travelling?

When people knew he was a professor, they stopped debating with him and instead deferred to his opinions, assuming he was more knowledgeable than them.

People respect the authority of scientists.

And we are fortunate in the vaping world to have scientists who are outspoken in their defence of vaping – many of them have also provided excellent quotes.

Their authority is respected, so use those quotes in the debate!


Obviously, as a vaper I understand when my vaping friends get angry and defensive.

Vaping, according to Professor John Britton, has the potential to save millions of lives. So when some people and organisations try to ban vaping, the device which has helped many of us finally get off smoking, it’s natural to react with anger.

I just wonder whether that anger achieves anything.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

8 thoughts on “Zen and The Psychology of the Vape Debate”

  1. The psychology is interesting. I have directly experienced the bile of the day to day anti smokers. If you you use patches, chewing gum or lozenges there is no visible sign of ‘smoking’ but vaping is seen as a device to avoid giving up smoking but allowing you to ‘smoke’ inside again, pushing the boundary of acceptability back in favour of the ’smoker’. Interestingly these peope have no problem with smokers that go outside to smoke (or vapours that go outside to vape) as this reinforces the social unacceptability (and the sense of community from the smokers viewpoint which further reinforces the divide between the two groups).

    Also, interestingly, I have never come across a smoker that has a problem with vapours for ‘abandoning the cause’.

    What we need is the hard scientific evidence that divides the benefits of vaping from the risks of smoking but it took many years to statistically distinguish that risk in any case and will take many more to demonstrate the difference and who will fund that research?

    1. Thank you for the comment Ian, and apologies for the very late reply!

      “I have never come across a smoker that has a problem with vapours for ‘abandoning the cause’.” I think you will find a few among groups like Freedom to Choose. To clarify, there are very few who have an issue with people switching to vaping, but they are aggrieved by vapers who then attack smokers (it does happen!)

      Actually, hundreds of research projects have been carried out on e-cigs. Some have been funded by universities, some have been crowd funded by vapers and some have been funded by the industry. While we can’t know the effects of vaping for 20 years we can, for example, determine that the ingredients and tar that cause smoking diseases are either not present or are present in very low levels.

  2. Absolutely glorious article. We so often forget that forming an opinion is only half the task of moral action. Outcomes are determined by how we deal with disagreements (including adjusting our own opinions).

    It’s uplifting to read an analysis geared for results. You’ve outlined some particularly useful stuff here, which I will ponder for some time (couldn’t get Firefox/wordpress to print, had to copy/paste).

    Well done James. Inspirational again.

    Cheers, Will

  3. Hi James,

    I have only just discovered this blog site and I’m liking the articles for their good read, it’s interesting and insightful especially where current events are concerned. I am a vaper and non practising graduate journalist and I like to collect reading material like this for my research folder but at the moment I can only save the articles as web archive files. I have looked over the page for the printable versions of the article but couldn’t find it. I would like the option to download a printable version, a permanent record of the article for prosperity as opposed to a webpage being removed at some point in the future, do you think this is a possibility with this website? I would hope so.

    Thanks & best wishes,

    Steve Hodges.

    Tried to email this message to your address ‘[email protected]’ but for some reason it keeps being returned as undeliverable. Quite annoying.

    1. Hi Steve

      Thank you for your kind comments. r.e. downloading, you should be able to press ctrl print and then save as PDF (at least, that’s how it works on my Mac). Alternatively, you could use a free web to pdf converter. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to create PDF versions of each post.

      Apologies for the email error – we are working on that now.


  4. I can understand where the dissenters are coming from, speaking objectively. They are the ones who probably say things like ‘smokers are so stupid for smoking, they deserve to die from related diseases’. When it comes to the subject of vaping they might say something like ‘they only do it because it’s trendy and they think it makes them look cool.’ They are the ones who pontificate on all manner of subjects but have never ‘been there’. They have opinions on all things, but as the saying goes, opinions are like a***holes, everybody’s got one. Their opinions don’t really mean much, they’re just throw away comments, sweeping statements. They don’t care about the Zen of psychology or the Zen of debate, the Zen of anything, what’s that got to do with the price of fish? In my experience, they are the ones who don’t like having their reasoning challenged because they can’t explain their logic. That’s when they revert to their personal bias and prejudices to justify their views. They wouldn’t understand the reasons and why for’s people switch to vaping from smoking. When it comes to vaping, I switched a year ago because for me it was the best alternative, having tried to quit unsuccessfully several times. I knew my future health was at risk, and I had a mother who was a heavy smoker all her life and in her last five years her health deteriorated rapidly because of smoking and she just couldn’t quit. I witnessed her suffering from smoking and it was painful for us both. It angers me that cigarettes are still allowed on the market, 60 odd years since the link to lung cancer was established and so many people die from smoking related diseases every year and the government is ineffective, their response is to increase the price and capitalise on tax revenue. Witnessing my mother’s deterioration caused me a lot of grief to the point that it affected my psychology. Discovering electronic cigarettes was like a god send but at the time I couldn’t afford it and it was my mother who helped me as she knew the devastation that smoking causes. After a year of vaping, I’m still wary of the impact on health. I am definitely better off without smoking but its still too early to tell whether or not there will be any harm caused by vaping. Currently, I am not aware of any research or evidence concerning adverse affects on health from vaping or that vaping causes such diseases as smoking does. I think we are experiencing an e-cig euphoria in the market, similar to tobacco cigarettes when marketing boomed in the early 20th century. Everybody had to be seen to be smoking, it was almost like it was culturally unacceptable to be without a cigarette. I am all in favour of vaping and try to encourage anybody who asks me about it. There are many good and positive reasons to switch to vaping, and vapers (privately) know they are wiser for doing so. However, I do feel that I may rue the day at some point in the future as little is known publicly about the effects of inhaling the compounds in eliquids. Are the flavourings and carriers used really as safe as we believe? As vaping is still relatively in its infancy, it will be another 10 or maybe 20 years before we know for sure how safe or unsafe it actually is. I am hoping to go into business selling eliquids to help more people make the switch. But I’m torn between commercial success in a booming industry and finding out in the future that I’d inadvertently contributed to causing harm that I’d intended to help prevent.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Steve. I am so sorry to hear the effect smoking had on your mother’s health.

      “It angers me that cigarettes are still allowed on the market, 60 odd years since the link to lung cancer was established and so many people die from smoking related diseases every year and the government is ineffective, their response is to increase the price and capitalise on tax revenue.”

      I understand your opinion, but consider prohibition. In the USA the government decided to ban alcohol, but people still wanted to drink. So what you had was a massive increase in organised crime. We’ve already seen that with tobacco, as tax increases has lead to a huge increase in tobacco smuggling. In fact, one sales representative from Japan Tobacco told me he was unable to sell rolling tobacco to some shops because everybody bought their tobacco down the pub. So I think if you banned cigarettes you would simply create a massive blackmarket with tobacco revenues flowing to organised crime.

      r.e. safety, we have a situation where a growing group of scientists who have carried out research into e-cigs, and who generally have zero or very little financial connections with the industry, are willing to stake their professional reputations that e-cigs are at least 95% safer than tobacco cigarettes. We may not have 100% certainty, but you can pay a high price for certainty, especially if the alternative is smoking cigarettes.

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