Research into e-cigarette use has largely focused on their health effects and efficacy for smoking cessation, with little attention given to their potential effect on health inequalities. Drawing on three years of ethnographic research between 2012 and 2015, I investigate the emerging e-cigarette practices of adult smokers and quitters in a working-class area of the UK. I first use de Certeau's notion of ‘tactics’ to describe the informal economy of local e-cigarette use. Low-priced products were purchased through personal networks and informal sources for financial reasons, but also as a solution to the moral problems of addiction and expenditure on the self, particularly for older smokers. E-cigarette practices were produced in local moral worlds where smoking and cessation had a complex status mediated through norms of age and gender. For younger men, smoking cessation conflicted with an ethic of working-class hedonism but e-cigarette use allowed cessation to be incorporated into male sociality. Continued addiction had moral implications which older men addressed by constructing e-cigarette use as functional rather than pleasurable, drawing on a narrative of family responsibility. The low priority which older women with a relational sense of identity gave to their own health led to a lower tolerance for e-cigarette unreliability. I draw on Kleinman's local moral worlds to make sense of these findings, arguing that smoking cessation can be a risk to moral identity in violating local norms of age and gender performance. I conclude that e-cigarettes did have some potential to overcome normative barriers to smoking cessation and therefore to reduce health inequalities, at least in relation to male smoking. Further research which attends to local meanings of cessation in relation to age and gender will establish whether e-cigarettes have similar potential elsewhere.
Bibliographical note© 2016 The Author
- Health inequalities
- Informal economy
- Smoking cessation