Vaping as An Alternative to Smoking Relapse Following a Brief Lapse

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: Smoking lapse is perceived differently when using e-cigarettes compared to past quit attempts. Having the pleasurable alternative of vaping meant that full relapse to smoking was not inevitable. Instead lapses were perceived as “permissive” or “purposive,” negatively reinforcing ongoing tobacco smoking abstinence. For ex-smokers, vaping offers a pleasurable, viable, pharmacological, but also social and psychological, substitution option for smoking and potentially powerfully alters the experience and threat of any lapse.

E-cigarettes are the most popular aid to quitting smoking in the UK. And most vapers use e-cigarettes for smoking cessation or reduction. Emerging evidence suggests e-cigarettes may be important in helping people quit by substituting not only the physical but also the psychological and social aspects that ex-smokers miss.

Although many smokers manage to quit, evidence suggests many relapse. There is little understanding of how vapers use e-cigarettes to avoid long-term smoking relapse.

Findings demonstrate that ex-smokers experience vaping as a pleasurable and enjoyable direct substitution for smoking, particularly apparent in circumstances contrasting the experience of tobacco smoking lapse. Aspects specific to vaping such as smell, sensory pleasure of inhaling vapor, and the action of vaping may be protective against smoking relapse, as vapers described how they came to prefer vaping over smoking. Lapses were sometimes permissible due to confidence that relapse could be avoided due to the availability of vaping.

Lapse was often purposefully sought in order to test resolve in remaining smoke free, or lapses were permissible in certain circumstances due to confidence that relapse could be avoided due to the availability of vaping.

As opposed to a lapse strongly predicting future relapse, lapses among vapers may actually negatively reinforce sustained abstinence from tobacco smoking through initiating a strong “disgust” reaction.

By interrupting the almost automatic processes between lapse and relapse through offering an alternative, the study suggests that relapse need not be inevitable following a brief tobacco lapse amongst those who vape.

Findings uniquely demonstrate how the role of smoking lapse may be theoretically redefined in the context of vaping, questioning the utility of previous theories of the role of smoking lapse in the relapse process. For ex-smokers, vaping appears to offer a powerful substitution option for smoking and an alternative to relapse, even following situations of brief relapse.