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“E-cig” or “vape”? Why semantics matter

If someone is puffing on an electronic device, is that product called an e-cig, vape, e-juice or hookah pen? How about e-liquid, vape pen, e-pipe, or liquid nicotine? The answer is more than just semantics; it can help tobacco control researchers communicate with current and potential users and design better studies.

To answer these questions, Truth Initiative® researchers analyzed the public posts from users of BecomeAnEX®, an online smoking cessation program created by Truth Initiative.


92 percent used the term “e-cigarette,” or a derivation such as “e-cig”

The results, published in August by Nicotine and Tobacco Researchshow that out of more than 1,200 BecomeAnEX users who mentioned electronic devices in over 4,300 posts, roughly 92 percent used the term “e-cigarette,” or a derivation such as “e-cig,” at least once. The next most common reference, at 23 percent, was “vape,” “vapor” or “vapour,” which became increasingly popular starting in 2013. Last on the list? No posters mentioned the term that researchers and tobacco control advocates often use: electronic nicotine delivery system, or ENDS.  

“Terms such as ‘electronic nicotine delivery systems,’ commonly employed by researchers and public health advocates, are not used by U.S. smokers and may be an impediment to tobacco control research and practice,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Pearson, research investigator at the Schroeder Institute.

Researchers looked at posts between 2008 and 2015. Most of the posters, who had an average age of 47, were females (79 percent) and had attended at least some college (78 percent).

While “e-cigarette” is the preferred parlance for the people in this study, that may not be the case for youth and young adults. The New York Times reported in 2014 that officials were concerned that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention inaccurately measured rates of electronic device use among young people because of survey phrasing.

“Indeed, public health officials warn that they may be misjudging the use of such products—whatever they are called—partly because of semantics,” the New York Times reported. “Many young people say they have not and will not use an e-cigarette but do say they have tried hookah pens, e-hookahs or vaping pens.”