The new paper separates the key results about the benefits of vape shops into three groups. First is the “structural-level environment — making vaping accessible and affordable.” The second set of benefits is grouped under “friendly persona service.” Finally, the paper looks at “advice and navigating choice,” a discussion of help offered to individual vapers.
One of the key advantages of wide availability that vapers identified is the “normalization” of vaping. When there are shops cropping up in every town, it reinforces the message that vaping is socially-acceptable and that they’re low-risk. As one vaper noted, you can try a device in-store if you’re interested, and that could easily lead to a decision to switch. Workers in vape shops often stress how much money you can save by switching too, which is a big benefit to many smokers.
The increasing acceptance of vaping among health professionals in the U.K. also strengthens the role of vape stores. One shop included in the study actually received referrals from doctors because the owner had introduced himself when he started the business. Other shops work closely with stop smoking services, who visit the stores to stay informed about vaping and what’s available for quitters.
Although TPD regulations caused some problems for the shops, they adapted well. It’s a testament to their commitment to customers that five of the six stores observed were on board with DIY mixing, and stocking flavors and nicotine shots for interested customers. They were happy to help “‘because some of [their customers] were skint, some were on the verge of smoking, so [mixing] is good for keeping people excited and keeping down the cost.”
A big part of the appeal of vape shops is their social aspect. Many have a lounge or café atmosphere, with chairs and sofas, and sometimes even coffee and snacks to encourage a relaxing community feel. This isn’t for everyone – which is why there are also many stores with a more typical retail environment – but it can help to replicate the social aspects of smoking for anybody interested.
This hints at a distinction that has been identified before and is important to how vapers use vape stores. Some are simply vaping as a method of quitting smoking, while others turn it into something of a hobby as well. For hobbyist vapers, the communal environment encouraged by vape shops reinforced their “identity” as a vaper, and this is a definite positive element to this style of shop.
However, for the more functional, “vape to quit” type of vaper, shops with a hobbyist focus could be a little off-putting. Some of the vapers felt that staff were less interested in them because they weren’t using an advanced device, and many preferred shops that had more of a traditional retail store feel and weren’t as embroiled in vape culture.
Similarly, some women interviewed pointed out that the impression that vape shops were “masculine territories” made them less confident shopping in them. Three women actually had male partners or friends go to shops for them to avoid the off-putting nature of the spaces.
Finally, the paper says that the individual-level support offered by most vape shops is a huge advantage to smokers, and even to more experienced vapers. This includes helping new users find the right device for them, and explaining rules of thumb for choosing a suitable nicotine strength. Employees ask questions to help new users find the right sort of device for them, and tailor their advice and recommendations to how “tech savvy” the particular customer is.
This type of support is essential because many new users find the bewildering number of choices a little daunting. Overall, the shops did a great job on this front, although some vapers reported having negative experiences in shops where staff seemed more interested in making a sale than offering useful information.
One final point that really drives home the benefit of vape shops is the ongoing support they offer. One of the vapers in the study commented, “I’m very reliant on going to the shop and going, ‘help something has gone wrong.’ They’ll just tut and go ‘you just do this like.’ So I’ve got that reliance, I’ve almost got like a little help on hand.”
When newer vapers are confused, local vape shops are valuable sources of advice. The researchers even found examples of hardware problems being investigated for free by staff. This is something that websites really can’t compete with, and is absolutely invaluable to anybody feeling out of their depth with technology. One staff member mentioned that he’d even give people trying to switch advice to avoid relapsing to smoking when they’re out drinking.