A typology of vaping: Identifying differing beliefs, motivations for use, identity and political interest amongst e-cigarette users

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Aim: To identify and differentiate shared patterns of accounts of e-cigarette (vaping) use.

Design: Q-methodology, combining factor analysis with qualitative comments.

Setting: Postal.

Participants: 55 UK vapers, 55% male, mean age of 46, 84% sole/15% dual user, 95% vaping daily.

Measurement: Seventy statements on the topic of e-cigarettes, drawn from media, academic and online discussions, were sorted by participants along a continuum of agreement/disagreement, each creating their own ‘account’ of their vaping. A by-person correlation matrix of the sorts was created, then factor analysed, to identify accounts that were similar (p<0.01).

Findings: Three discrete factors were identified. The first two primarily included e-cig users who had quit, the third dual users. In Factor One, ‘Vaping as pleasure’, the medicalization of nicotine addiction is rejected, vaping is enjoyed, with the long-term use of e-cigs envisaged. Factor One participants were also politically motivated with a strong vaping identity. In Factor Two, ‘Vaping as medical treatment’, vaping is understood as a pragmatic choice about how to medicate one’s smoking addiction, given the disadvantages of normal cigarettes (poor health, smell and cost); vaping is thus a functional means to an end. In Factor Three, ‘Ambivalent dual use’, participants reported fewer benefits and harboured more negative beliefs about e-cigarettes; they also strongly rejected a vaper identity, having no interest in forums or being labelled a ‘vaper’.

Conclusion: UK e-cigarette users are not a homogeneous group; differing in their beliefs, motivations for use, identity and political interest. Public health messages targeted to one group of e-cigarette users may not resonate with others.

Awarded: First prize

Conflicts of interest:

University of Exeter research allowance, no other declarations relevant to this project or e-cigarettes as a topic.


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Ms. Hannah Farrimond