How 9 TV shows put vaping in the spotlight

A look at 9 mainstream television shows that depicted vaping in good and bad ways

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Being a topic on popular TV shows means we’re a thing — the wider culture is taking notice of our once-niche market — and that brings all the benefits and drawbacks of being a known quantity.

House of Cards (S2, E4)

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Though it wasn’t the first appearance of e-cigs on television, it was one of the first that acknowledged it, rather than relegating it to a site gag or background prop. In this instance, the show’s writers addressed smoking cessation head on, as Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood gets caught puffing by his wife, who thought he had quit.

When she accuses him of “cheating,” he looks her in the eye and says, “No I’m not. It’s vapor.”

A small throwaway line to most. To a community that has been preaching this for nearly a decade, it was a landmark victory for mainstream acceptance.

Underwood’s next line caused a bit of controversy, however, when the character claimed e-cigs brought “addiction without the consequences.” While not the most positive way to represent our industry’s focus on harm reduction, the writers’ intent was clear – vaping is becoming a common choice for ex-smokers.

Young Pope (S1, E4)

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HBO’s controversial new show Young Pope has garnered a lot of press for its radical premise and downright odd scenarios. In this limited series, American Lenny Belardo – played by Jude Law – is a former Archbishop of New York, and the new head of the Catholic church.

Taking the name Pius XIII, the former Lenny is everything his predecessor wasn’t, and he immediately lashes out within the Vatican, often saying and doing things to shock his colleagues, including an outright questioning of God’s existence.

On a less extreme, but no less controversial level, Pius XIII is also a chain smoker – something HBO portrays almost lovingly through its oddball lead character. In the show, the new Pope not only puffs habitually, but seems to revel in others’ reaction to this behavior.

Perhaps the show isn’t glorifying the act itself, but the writers seem awfully comfortable portraying cigarettes as a source of rebellion for our protagonist. And let’s be honest, more often than not, rebellious heroes are cool, making this connection a little uncomfortable for many.

In one episode, one of the Cardinals offers Pius XIII an e-cig to replace his habit, which is immediately shot down with the line, “I’ve heard those things were worse for you than the real thing.

Young Pope might be a minor TV sensation, and one helluva show… but it’s not doing a thing for our industry, or our cause.

Billions (S1, E2)

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Keeping with the pay-cable theme, Showtime’s Billions ups the vape ante by being one of the first shows to feature a dry herb vaporizer. In this case, rather than showing the characters puffing on a tired old joint or pipe, Showtime brings things to the modern day when lead actors Damian Lewis and Malin Ackerman share a few hits off a Pax 2.

What’s best about the segment is how casually and matter-of-fact the moment is. Rather than try to position itself with a blunt, “Hey, look how smart and cool we are” scene, the characters use the device in regular conversation, giving it no more attention than a cigarette.

While a little exposition might have better explained things to newcomers, the best way for these devices to permeate the mainstream is by treating them as mainstream products. For that, we tip our caps to the producers.

True Detective (S2, E2)

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In the widely panned second season of True Detective, there is a minute-long scene in the second episode that revolves around one person’s opinion on vaping. Rachel McAdams plays Ani Bezzerides, a cop partnered with Ray Velcoro, played by Colin Farrell. Working on a strange murder case, these two cops from separate precincts are just getting to know each other after becoming partners.

This infamous e-cig scene with a famous one-liner takes place in Ani’s car as she and Ray are working the clues about the suspect. Ani is driving. She is holding an e-cig, some manual cigalike, and Ray, a smoker, is riding shotgun. The scene begins with Ray nervously tapping his hands on the passenger-side window, and Ani asks him to stop. She then speaks a little bit about the case as she draws on her e-cig. Then Ray starts…

Ray: You know you pull off that e-cig. Not a lot of people do.

Ani: [Disregarding what Ray says] This place gets a day-to-day influx of 70,000 people, right? Where do they live?

Ray: [Still talking about the e-cig] I tried one once. It felt like it was smoking me. A real cigarette wouldn’t make you feel like that. Maybe it’s just too close to sucking a robot’s dick! I don’t know.

After the last line, Ani gives a bit of a sideways glance to Ray, then the scene is over. The worst part is that after that scene, Ani never uses an e-cig again in any episode. Actually, three episodes later she is back to smoking with no ridicule from Ray. Go figure!

2 Broke Girls (S4, E11)

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The CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls isn’t exactly known for original, highbrow comedy. A stale rehash of The Odd Couple set in a diner, and featuring sex jokes that would have been tired in 1981, the show unfortunately took an equally stale approach to discussing vaping.

In one episode, the girls in question notice a table full of “hipsters vaping” in the diner. Predictably, room-filling clouds and side-splitting hilarity ensued. BUT, the show was notable for showing vape mods being used, rather than the more common cig-a-likes and vape pens.

Deadliest Catch (numerous episodes)

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Though you wouldn’t think vaping and Alaskan crab fishing would have much in common, but the show’s connection to vape culture date back to the beginning. The docu-drama highlights what life is like for Bering Sea crab fishermen who brave some of the world’s most violent waters for weeks at a time, if not longer.

There’s not much to do out there, so many of them smoke. And then they smoke some more. So, it was only a matter of time before a cast member decided to switch to a better alternative. Unfortunately, that moment seemed to come after one of the show’s key members died after a massive stroke.

Captain Phil Harris (of the vaunted Cornelia Marie fishing vessel) was a heavy smoker, and though the show never revealed that smoking was the direct cause, it was noticeable that his son Josh, who eventually took over Phil’s position at the ship’s helm, immediately switched to a blue-tipped e-cig following his father’s unfortunate passing.

Deadliest Catch (again!)

Another well-known personality on Deadliest Catch was Matt Bradley, a longtime deckhand on the crab vessel, Northwestern. One of the heaviest smokers among a heavy-smoking cast, Bradley made the switch to vaping a few years back and has since become a well-known figure in the vape community.

Bradley now owns his own high-end vape business, and regularly appears at industry conventions around the world. He even appeared in a PBusardo video.

Luke Cage (S1, E6)

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The Marvel TV universe is a much darker, more cutting-edge environment than its colorful films, so it comes as no surprise that it would feature more adult activities than Captain America would ever permit.

In a recent episode of the Netflix series, a handful of scenes clearly depict the show’s actors in front of Beyond Vape, a NYC-based brick and mortar chain catering to high-end vapers.

Perhaps future episodes will show the unbreakable Cage blowing a plume of vapor in the face of an enemy, but for now, we’re just thrilled the show had gumption to feature a better alternative to smoking, instead of hiding it.

Z-Nation (S2, E4)

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American cable show Z-Nation (otherwise known as “Not ‘The Walking Dead,’ but that other zombie show”) features a pair of characters who vape interesting combinations of box mods and some more dated mouth-to-lung atomizers. It appears as if an Innokin MVP and Aspire Nautilus was featured actually being vaped. The bent long-stem drip tip is priceless!

It’s nice to know vaping culture is strong enough to withstand a zombie apocalypse. Now, if we could only get past the FDA.

The Simpsons (S26, E20)

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This one hurts a bit. Not just because we love the humor of The Simpsons. But because The Simpsons is usually so effective in skewering social issues. So, when the show writers decided to address vaping by playing to common fears and misconceptions, we feel they took easy shots, with gags that did nothing to show both sides of the argument.

In a 2015 episode, vaping pervades Springfield, with all major characters – even baby Maggie and Grampa Abe – blowing rings. Right away, this makes us nervous, because it implies vaping is for everyone, when we all know this is an adult practice for former smokers. The visuals of young children – even yellow cartoon children – is NOT a positive for the industry.

The show then mocks the relative availability of e-cigs to children, by having convenience store owner Apu try and sell Bart on flavored vapes, saying, “It’s not kid’s stuff. Now do you want bubblegum or tropical melon flavor?

Perhaps the show is a little long in the tooth, given its nearly 30 years on the air. But this was a surprisingly unfocused attack on an industry looking to help people, and showed more than a little ignorance on the part of its writing team.

The End… or the beginning?

Aspects of vaping being on TV and seen in the living rooms across the globe might open up the market and make a lot of smokers think about trying this new thing. It could even normalize vaping a bit among the non-smoking majority, make us seem a little less “weird”.

But it can also make put a target on our back. It’s bad enough to have the attention of every donation-hungry “health” group and wannabe nanny state legislator in the country. But being a regular target of popular drama (or worse, a comedy!) could hurt vaping even more. If we become nothing more than a regular punch line in a series of bad jokes, the wider culture could dispose of vaping as an irrelevant hipster affectation in no time flat.

What do you think? Will vaping survive Hollywood?

Let us know what you think. Have you seen any other “vaping episodes” on television that we didn’t include? Let us know in the comments.

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Brad B
Brad is a writer, editor and content marketer who brings nearly a decade of industry experience to Vaping360, having completed long-term contracts for three major e-cigarette companies over that time. In addition to managing his full-time work and an ever-demanding family, Brad also enjoys freelancing for sports and gaming sites across the web.
  • John Vezirian

    Honestly it is not the shows that have had vaping on them that concern me.. It is the damn vaping ads on TV, the stupid ones depicting a guy arriving in a huge cloud of vapor and then leaving in the same cloud, ot the ones that depict some one vaping in a public space blowing huge clouds. Yes I know we love our clouds, hell I love mine, but I also know the public does not see us as good at the moment. The flat out lying Anti-Smoking groups have folks already looking at us as the next plague, why fuel the fire……

    • Jeremy

      Wait, are you saying there are pro-vaping ads with clouds, not just puffs? I’ve seen my share of negative ads, but I haven’t seen one featuring clouds… let alone one that was supposedly “for” vapers.

      Maybe I am misunderstanding. Either way, I am off to get my Google-fu on!