The Ambiguity of E-Cigarettes: E-Cigarettes as Boundary Objects

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This paper explores the perceptions of e-cigarettes held by e-cigarette users and stop smoking advisors in South East England in the United Kingdom (UK). This qualitative study draws on two thematically analysed datasets: semi-structured interviews with 15 e-cigarette users and 13 stop smoking advisors between 2014 and 2015.
The paper applies the Boundary Objects Theory and discusses how e-cigarettes as boundary objects function as both translational and facilitative objects. The data exhibited an ambiguity regarding e-cigarettes’ status, efficacy and potential risks and varied goals of using e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes’ flexibility allowed for divergent interpretations to co-exist. It is due to the disagreement and different social meanings allocated to e-cigarettes that the boundary objects have formed. As translational boundary objects, e-cigarettes enabled people from multiple social worlds and different conceptions, of nicotine, smoking and e-cigarettes, to agree on similar meanings without consensus. As facilitative boundary objects, e-cigarettes facilitated the acceptance of harm reduction practices. The data showed a potential for social change towards a socially acceptable recreational use of nicotine that mimics smoking. E-cigarettes allowed for the emergence of a new social phenomenon where the boundaries between medicinal and recreational nicotine are reformed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Integrated social Sciences JISS
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


  • Boundary objects
  • Stop smoking service
  • E-cigarettes
  • Nicotine addiction


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