Subculture wars: The struggle for the vape industry

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Drawing on a 2-year study, I argue that the UK vape industry is engaged in a classificatory struggle between a subcultural industry and its “other”, the mainstream industry. I build on Thornton's analysis of club culture to characterize the subcultural vape industry as a community of taste built round a masculine aesthetic and a commitment to authenticity and DIY practice. Its attachment to complex systems and masculine spaces risked excluding customers without specialist knowledge or interest. The mainstream industry included tobacco companies which promoted vaping as a complementary category to smoking, linking their own vaping products to historic meanings of the cigarette as a lifestyle product. This task was hampered by the toxic legacy of combusted tobacco and its increasing reversion to a generic category rather than a branded product. Finally, the success of the price-focused vaping industry has been largely overlooked, but suggests that for most consumers, electronic cigarettes are still a contrasting category to combusted tobacco and are purchased largely on price. I conclude that the exclusion of a feminized, classed “other” is a defining element of subcultural formation, itself an overwhelmingly male mechanism of group identity construction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-16
Number of pages14
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number1
Early online date3 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2022 The Authors. The British Journal of Sociology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of London School of Economics and Political Science.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • authenticity
  • bourdieu
  • consumption
  • field analysis
  • subculture
  • vape industry


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