One of the most frequently-cited benefits of using e-cigs is that you can do so in most places where smoking is banned. E-cigarettes produce vapor, so a “No Smoking” sign or law doesn't prohibit vaping because there is no combustion and therefore no smoke.
However, since bars, restaurants and other businesses are free to prevent people from vaping if they so choose, and some states – such as New Jersey – have banned e-cig use indoors, it isn't the free-for-all it could be. This has led many vapers to decide to “stealth” vape, which makes it much more difficult to see the vapor at all, but the practice isn't without its issues.
What is Stealth Vaping?
Stealth vaping looks more like somebody using a nicotine inhaler. Rather than exhaling vapor – which produces an undeniable, smoking-like effect – you can simply hold the vapor in for a little bit longer so it almost all disappears by the time you exhale.
There are many different techniques people use to stealth vape, but they all generally revolve around the same basic principle: if you hold the vapor in for longer, there will be less to exhale. Some users prefer to inhale some ordinary air after taking a puff, and others exhale into a cup or sleeve to remove the visual impact of the vapor. It can also help to blow the vapor out more slowly, since this makes it barely visible even if you haven’t held it in for a long time. It’s also a good idea to cover the tip (or light-up button on the e-cig) to make it even less obvious that somebody is using an e-cigarette.
Indoor Vaping Bans are Stupid… But…
If you use e-cigarettes, chances are you’re well aware that they are considerably safer than smoking a tobacco cigarette. For this and other reasons, there is hardly any risk at all in terms of “second hand” exposure. If anything, the ease of stealth vaping attests to this fact.
E-cigs don’t continuously burn at the tip, so the vast majority of the vapor goes straight into the user’s lungs. All of these things combine to make any ban on indoor vaping inherently flawed, to the point where they make little to no sense at all. But – and this is an important point – in business and states where they are in force, they should be respected. It might seem a little sanctimonious, but it’s important to think about how e-cig users as a whole are going to be perceived in public and the real reasons the indoor bans are imposed.
The Real Reasons for Bans
If, like most vapers and informed non-vapers, you accept the limited (even if it’s entirely insignificant) risk from “passive” vaping, the fact that there are indoor bans at all seems to be a little confusing. However, there are some more legitimate reasons that these bans are imposed. Often, they revolve around the notion of “re-normalizing” the smoking of cigarettes, because e-cigs look a little bit like traditional cigarettes.
The assumption is that if people become accustomed to seeing a smoking-like activity, then the work to remove the social norm of indoor smoking would be undermined. This is still a flawed argument – largely because nobody thinks e-cigs are actual cigarettes (research has even shown that teenagers understand them pretty well) – but it’s more valid than the notion that second-hand vaping is dangerous. The sad truth is that people just don’t really like smokers, and this appears to extend to anything that looks like smoking as well.
To Stealth or Not to Stealth
Now we've covered the pretty idiotic arguments (and outright bias) that leads to some establishments and states preventing people from vaping indoors, it’s time to consider how the community should respond.
Being obviously in the right isn't enough to justify impoliteness. Just as you wouldn't barge into a Catholic Church and start yelling about how humans are just naked, exquisitely-evolved primates, you shouldn't walk into an establishment where they have an (admittedly flawed) ban on e-cig use indoors and start vaping. This is the only real issue with stealth vaping: it can be used to skirt around established rules because you can break them without being caught.
Given the tense legislative and social climate surrounding e-cigs, how ordinary vapers carry themselves in public is actually pretty important. From the point of view of non-smokers, they've successfully removed smoking from bars, but then e-cigs have shown up and slipped through their carefully constructed net. This is why some people think e-cigs are used specifically to get around no smoking rules, because they don’t think about the benefits to the users or their hugely safer nature, they just feel like cheeky smokers are finding a way to undermine their efforts.
So if you’re interested in stealth vaping because you want to do it somewhere you specifically aren't allowed to, you really shouldn't. It might be irritating to have to stand outside with the analogue smokers, but it would be undoubtedly just plain rude to do something you have explicitly been prevented from doing.
Even though the risks are in no way the same (and you probably wouldn't be noticed), it’s essentially as impolite as it would be for a smoker to light up a cigarette where it isn't allowed.
If you really have a problem with the policy, it would be much more useful to talk directly to the business owner (or lobby for legislative change) than to break the rules. State your case, but if the rule is upheld, either be polite and go outside or (if you’re really annoyed) don’t give the establishment your business. That way, vapers won’t look like smokers who are trying to skirt existing rules, we’ll look like what we actually are: people simply hoping to reduce the harm they’re doing to themselves and anybody around them.
There are some situations in which stealth vaping is a nice idea, though. For example, if you’re in an establishment or state where indoor vaping is permitted but you’re aware that people may not be happy you’re doing it, stealth vaping is a good compromise. We can accept that some people plain just don’t like vapers, and if you think it would avoid drawing attention to yourself and make other people around you more comfortable, stealth vaping is actually a very nice thing to do. In these situations, it’s polite to stealth vape, and it might make you feel more comfortable about using your e-cig indoors.
There is no reason to assume that using an e-cigarette indoors is dangerous, but that doesn't mean disobedience is the answer when faced with idiotic rules. It’s simply disrespectful to do anything the owner of an establishment doesn't want you to, no matter how much you disagree.
However, if there is no explicit rule preventing vaping but you still think you or other people around you would be more comfortable without visible vapor, then feel free to slip into stealth mode. Hopefully, one day reasonable indoor vaping rules will dominate, but until then our actions should comply with any rules, even if we verbally disagree.
To Stealh or Not to Stealth? Share your thoughts in the comments below.