Getting The Vapors
It was an article from The Atlantic that finally got me to take the plunge and try electronic cigarettes. Clancy may have mentioned it before, but it was only once I read the case for ecigs outlined and the fact that they are likely not just marginally less unhealthy than analogs (“real cigarettes”), but much less unhealthy. That, if I made the transition and never quit ecigs, that alone would signify a significant improvement. Especially if, as I suspect, my habit is more due to habitry and less due to nicotine addiction (though have no doubt, it’s always at least some of both) and I can eventually use the nicotine-free cartridges. So I read the article, talked it over with Clancy, and went and purchased a startup kit.
I’ve been tobacco-free for six weeks now. This is significant:
The evidence has been mounting for a long time. I published my first scientific studies on vastly safer smoke-free cigarette substitutes almost 20 years ago. Britain’s Royal College of Physicians, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical societies, reported in 2002 : “As a way of using nicotine, the consumption of non-combustible [smokeless] tobacco is on the order of 10-1,000 times less hazardous than smoking, depending on the product.” The report continued with an even bolder statement, acknowledging that some smokeless manufacturers may want to market their products “as a ‘harm reduction’ option for nicotine users, and they may find support for that in the public health community.”
In 2007, the Royal College challenged governments to consider “…that smokers smoke predominantly for nicotine, that nicotine itself is not especially hazardous, and that if nicotine could be provided in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved.”
It wasn’t the smoothest transition in the world. A friend told me it took him three weeks, but it took me a couple of months. It also required certain sacrifices that I hadn’t intended to make. But it did happen. Now that I am six weeks out, I am approaching the point of hard return. Where the analog will feel more weird than the electronic gadget I am now using.
If you smoke, whether this is a pathway for you or not is a decision you have to make for yourself. The potential here is enormous. My primary concern is that our regulatory state will blow it. No pun intended. I fear that we may end up making the safer alternative more difficult and less convenient than regular cigarettes, thus making it more rather than less difficult to quit smoking real cigarettes. If this seems ridiculous to you, or like some ridiculous slippery slope argument, the banning of ecigarette imports by the FDA was only prevented by judicial action. Anti-smoking advocates were perfectly happy to strangle this baby in its crib.
Fortunately, the medical community has not really rallied around this and some in fact are recommending ecigarettes as a less-unsafe alternative to smoking. It’s unlikely that the ecig industry will be successfully strangled because the benefits may be too great for anyone but the activists and some scare journalists to ignore.
To be honest, I am not actually perfectly sanguine about the health potential of these things. They appear to be much, much safer than regular cigarettes. But I will be (pleasantly) surprised if we do not discover, at some point down the line, that vaping (“e-smoking”) doesn’t correlate with higher instances of throat and lung cancer. The throat scratchiness has not gone away. The chest feels better, but there is a persistent shortness of breath. Though I honestly have no problem that the lying scumbag tobacco companies were made to pay for their lies, I do feel like the smokers should have known better. Your body lets you know in every imaginable way that smoking is bad for you and it took a refusal to listen in order not to hear it. If I listen to my body now, what I hear is that this is an imperfect solution.
Some degree of regulation is necessary. We don’t want children to have access to these things – even the nicotine-free ones. The traditional tobacco companies have been entering the industry and their track record is such that it behooves us to watched them closely, to say the least. Unfortunately, a lot of the early suggestions leave me wary. It suggests that we’re going to take these things down exactly the same road that we went down with cigarettes, which would be a huge mistake. Indeed, some of it would undermine the arguments of those who lead the first crusade.
The vapor from ecigs are pretty much odorless. My wife, who hates the smell of cigarette smoke with a passion, will actually come outside to talk to me while I am vaping. The second-hand smoke argument, instrumental in the first crusade, is unproven and significant harm unlike here. The worst two things about allowing public vaping are that (a) the fog, however rapidly-dissipating, is going to annoy some people, and (b) it makes anti-smoking regulations harder to enforce. This is certainly enough to justify airlines banning it, but is pretty weak ground for the wide bans we have in place for cigarettes. Not that I expect this to matter. I suspect (b) will ultimately be enough for it to be lumped with cigarettes in terms of banishment, along with a general animus towards smokers and smoking that transcends the physical harm.
The biggest threat, both in terms of the dangers of ecigs and regulation thereto, are studies like this, pointing out the increase in usage among young people. Setting aside the nicotine gateway concerns, the ingestion itself may or may not be safe. While for adults, I want to err on the side of freedom, for kids I take a more restricted view. The second is concern that it will be a gateway to regular smoking. The latter ironically becomes more likely if we treat – and tax – vaping the same way that we treat smoking.
That’s what I am concerned about, and the proposed regulations are already moving us in that direction. This is of particular concern to me because what finally got me to make the transition to ecigs is that I stopped treating them like regular cigarettes. My initial goal was to impose all of the same restrictions on vaping as I had imposed on smoking. This was a dead end. The only result of that exercise was that it became a cheap copy with the only advantage being that I didn’t have to deoderize every time I came back in and I didn’t have ash to contend with. It was only once I started allowing myself to vape indoors and try a multitude of flavors that I started seeing cigarettes more as an inconvenience rather than a superior product. As such, if we want people to make the transition from smoking to vaping – and at this point we should – then we should give vaping more latitude and less taxes.
This very much includes tabling some of the legislation people are advocating now. Not just the Los Angeles Times advocating public building bans, but the banning of flavors “marketed to kids.” I don’t know if cartridges flavored like atomic fireballs are of interest to kids or not, but they are surely of interest to me. Right now, I am splitting my time between the “tobacco-flavored” cartridges and the various flavors they have available. Many of the latter could be claimed to be “aimed at kids” but in fact are great for people like me. I think that as I draw down on the nicotine content of the ecigs, the flavoring will become even more important. If the ecigs have to taste like tobacco, then they will always be a knock-off of tobacco and an inferior substitution. But if they taste like vanilla, then they’re in their own orbit.
Combine that with a greater flexibility on where to partake, and the inconveniences that I was dealing with for years become a lot more startling. Wait, I went out in the rain? In the snow? In 100 degree weather? To smoke the same thing over and over again? No vanilla flavor? It all helps prevent a desire to go back. The last thing I want, at this point, is to be able to convince myself that I want to go back to the analogs.
My mentor on this whole thing managed to quit the ecigs after about nine months, which is not an uncommon result. I honestly don’t know if I will ever get past the ecigs. The thing is, though, that six months ago I was wondering if I would ever be able to quit cigarettes and resigning myself to the possibility that it would dog me for the rest of my shortened life. Maybe I’ll relapse and it still will. I do know, though, that I am less scared than I have ever been. I have Lolliard Tobacco Company to thank for that, as well as a judge that stopped the FDA from preventing it.