“Have they come out with healthy cigarettes, yet?”
I’ve thought this many times, wandering back into a smoke shop after picking the habit up again, as I’ve done consistently since age 14. The more technological breakthroughs that take place in my lifetime, the more insane it seems that all the world has managed to hand cigarette smokers have been a poison sticker for your arm, and dry-wall colored gum that burns a hole in the roof of your mouth.
Yet, here we are: I’ve finally seen the future. And it is electronic cigarettes.
Most call ‘em “E-Cigs.” The FDA calls them an unstudied, potential health hazard, but considering that 99% (my estimation) of e-cig users will be folks who previously enjoyed sucking up tar and ash infused with hundreds of chemicals and 43 known carcinogens — well, let’s not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the thing that could potentially get people to stop doing that.
An electronic cigarette is essentially a mini-vaporizer. In an e-cig, the cylindrical tube that would normally house tobacco is a lithium battery. The small tip that would be the filter (for smokers with a modicum of respect for their lungs) is now a “cartomizer,” in which flavored liquid is atomized to create water vapor.
Very smooth, smoke-like water vapor, which fills the mouth and lungs, and then flows and curls out from between your lips upon exhaling, like some kind of heavenly, 90/10 smoke-silk blend.
It’s the sensation of smoking, the appearance of smoking, but no smoke. And as anybody who has been blessed with the habit knows, so much of the addiction is in the action.
Yeah, nicotine matters, and “e-juice” can contain anywhere from 36 to zero milligrams of the addictive alkaloid, at your preference. But an e-cigarette gives smokers just about any thrill they currently get from their smokes, plus the prospect of climbing stairs without getting winded.
Oh, and all that cancer and heart disease. Which does merit the question: while e-cigs are cleaner, sweeter, and less smelly, do they pose any health risks?
The question becomes what these things pump into your lungs, and the answer is — it depends. Most e-cigarette “starter kits” and brand ecosystems rely on a formula that contains water, propylene glycol, nicotine if you’re into it and “natural and artificial flavoring.”
As with food products, that last one is the offshore Swiss bank account of listed ingredients; you never know what’s hiding in there. A lot of “e-juice” companies and e-cigarette manufacturers rely on formulas concocted in China, the country whose unregulated industrial sector has occasionally given us lead paint in children’s toys and antifreeze-laced toothpaste.
That’s where the FDA has valid concerns; in 2007, it seized one load of imported e-juice that indeed contained trace amounts of the same antifreeze chemical. Fortunately, that has spurred solutions, in the form of upstart businesses like Todd Gano’s Vaperite out of Woodstock, Georgia.
Gano found himself unemployed a few years ago, when the market for his construction business dried up. While surfing Facebook during the downtime, he came across an ad for an electronic cigarette. The 30-year former smoker (his last brand was additive-free American Spirits) now mixes his own e-juice from natural and organic ingredients sourced exclusively from the United States.
After a week with them, I’m enamored. There’s no doubt in my mind that electronic cigarettes are a goofy habit. Like traditional cigarette smoking, “vaping” (yeah, that’s what they call it) looks like the crutch that it is for anxious and habitual people. But considering the deadly alternative — which kids continue to pick up, in smaller but still fluctuating numbers —they may just be a godsend.
Addendum: In case my endorsement sounded a bit too full-throated, I do believe that e-cigs should be regulated. At present, there are more unknowns than what might be in the e-juice; there is very little public testing and transparency when it comes to the devices themselves. There’s no doubt in my mind that electronic cigarettes could work, with lots of testing and oversight; the industry has ducked this, in part because the FDA and other regulators haven’t seemed as concerned with making the devices safe so much as getting them off the market, for the way they might appeal to kids and dissuade smokers from trying to quit nicotine completely. I think that’s unfortunate, for all the reasons stated in the original article.