Vaping as an alternative to smoking relapse following brief lapse

Caitlin Notley (Lead Author), Emma Ward, Lynne Dawkins, Richard Holland, Sarah Jakes

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13 Citations (Scopus)
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Background and Aims: E-cigarettes are the most popular aid to quitting smoking in the UK. Although many smokers quit, relapse is common. Historically, the literature has reported strong associations between tobacco smoking lapse and relapse following a quit attempt. This article aims to explore how smoking lapse is experienced by those who vape to quit smoking. Design and Methods: A purposive sample of 40 UK vapers were matched to a sampling frame from a representative sample of UK quitters. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted. Data were thematically analysed iteratively situating reported experiences of smoking lapse within narrative descriptions of vaping. Iterative categorization was used as a technique to further explore a subset of data specifically focused on smoking lapse. Results: Analysis revealed that smoking lapse is perceived qualitatively differently when using e-cigarettes as 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’, intentional and contextualised, or for some as unintentional, with the resulting emotional response negatively reinforcing ongoing tobacco smoking abstinence. Discussion and Conclusions: Our novel findings suggest that the role of tobacco smoking lapse in relation to relapse status may be theoretically redefined, drawing on data from vapers. These findings question the utility of previous theories of the role of smoking lapse in the relapse process. 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-75
Number of pages8
JournalDrug and Alcohol Review
Issue number1
Early online date28 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • electronic cigarette
  • qualitative
  • smoking relapse prevention
  • vaping

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