Nicotine addiction as a moral problem: Barriers to e-cigarette use for smoking cessation in two working-class areas in Northern England

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Tobacco use in high-income countries correlates with socio-economic disadvantage, but although switching to electronic cigarettes could be a safer alternative, little is known about barriers to use. Drawing on eighteen months of data collection in two areas of Northern England in 2017/18 including ethnography and interviews with 59 smokers and e-cigarette users, I show that concern about continued nicotine addiction either deterred working-class smokers from switching to e-cigarettes or dictated the conditions of their use. Research participants were unhappy about addiction both as loss of control experienced as moral failure and as neglect of financial responsibilities i.e. role performance failure in relation to family responsibilities, or what I call ‘thrift as care’. They reduced the moral burden of addiction by lowering nicotine content, rejecting pleasure and minimising expenditure. They chose the cheapest possible tobacco, switched from combusted tobacco to cheaper e-cigarettes and bought cheap e-cigarettes and liquids. For working-class smokers, minimising spend on what they perceive negatively as addiction may be a greater moral concern than reducing health risk. I conclude that ensuring that vaping is significantly cheaper than smoking may be key to addressing health inequalities linked to tobacco use.
Original languageEnglish
Article number112498
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date17 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 Published by Elsevier Ltd.


  • UK; Smoking cessation; Electronic cigarettes; Addiction; Ethnography; Health inequalities; Thrift as care

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