“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.


  1. Excellent article. You certainly describe the experience with ecigs very will. I just wish the image displayed more popular e cigarette models. The ones in the picture are big and bulky and don’t look like a real cigarette unlike most ecigs.

  2. I think working toward a safer e-cigarette is definitely a good goal, while they are proposed to be better than tobacco smoking I think they are on the right track with making them in the first place. There just needs to be quality control in place so not just anyone can make them.

  3. Thanks for a really nice article. Vaping got me to quit after 46 years of smoking. It’s been a year now and it still works (nothing else did–and I tried many, many times!)

  4. One suggestion for you in communicating about e-liquid, to eliminate potential misundersatandings by those unfamiliar with e-cigs.

    You wrote: “Yeah, nicotine matters, and “e-juice” can contain anywhere from 36 to zero milligrams of the addictive alkaloid, at your preference”. It would be better to express the nicotine content as a percentage. That is, that the e-liquid can contain anywhere from zero nicotine to 3.6% nicotine, at your preference.

    The reason this is better is because when the nicotine content of e-liquid is expressed in milligrams, it is actually milligrams per milliliter. But that can be very misleading and/or confusing when people try to figure out exactly how much nicotine is present in a given e-cig or cartridge, as different e-cig cartridges (or cartomizers or tanks) hold different quantities of liquid. The cartrtidges of some very small cigarette sized e-cigs hold only about 0.3 millliliters of liquid, for example, while some of the newer tank style cartridges can hold 2 or more milliliters of liquid (but they of course last that much longer before needing a refill).

    Thus, it is much easier for anyone to understand the nicotine content of a given e-cig when learning that it is using liquid with 1.6% nicotine (16 mg per ml), or .08% nicotine (8 mg per ml), or 3.6% nicotine (36 mg per ml), and they don’t have to account for differing sizes of cartridges at all in trying to calculate how much nicotine is present.

  5. A little over 2 years ago when I told my cousin that I had switched to an electronic cigarette, he told me, “It’s a gimmick.” That’s another way of saying “goofy habit.” When thanks to this gimmick or goofy habit, I have not smoked any tobacco cigarettes since 3/27/2009. To someone who smoked for 45 years and tried dozens of times to quit, that’s nothing short of a miracle. To people who have been brainwashed into thinking that nicotine is “as addictive as heroin” never stop to ask themselves why there is no such crime as “driving under the influence of nicotine.” There is no such crime because nicotine does not impair cognitive skills, motor skills, or memory. In fact, it enhances all these skills. That’s why people who have problems with concentrating, paying attention, remembering, or with depression or anxiety find relief from their symptoms by using nicotine. Until the electronic cigarette, however, the most efficient way to take in nicoitne was via smoking. Unfortunately the tar, carbon monoxide, particulates, and thousands of chemcals created by the process of combustion cause lung disease, cardiovascular diseae, and cancers. Take away the smoke and you are left with a chemical that is about as harmful as caffiene. It helps people concentrate, pay attention, and remember. These are good skills to have when driving a car, doing your taxes, shopping, and performing your work, Even the 80% of smokers who don’t have any cognitive or mood impairments appreciate the beneficial effets of nicotine. To those of us in the 20%, having a reduced-harm replacement for smoking is a Godsend.

  6. Great article! However, I want to address the “china syndrome.” China gets a bad rap, especially in this regard. But I’ve worked for two different e-cig companies as their man in China, and I’ve been to the e-liquid factories here, and most of them are quite good, with very high sanitary and manufacturing standards. THe niggest ones are divisions of pharmaceutical or food companies, and their facilities, ingredients, and standards are food or pharmaceutical standards. The FDA’s findings are very disputable, and the traces of DEG were not only well below the threshold for any possible harm, they were low enough they might have been due to cross contamination from their testing equipment. They were literally at the lowest threshold of detectability, and well below the amount that is allowed in food and drink products. The FDA is in a battle to ban e-cigs, and has NOT been carrying out their duty of impartial investigation. Here’s a video I made while at my last employer showing the high quality of the manufacturer I was using at the time. http://www.youtube.com/user/dhenschel05#p/u/4/OWR65NTH9B4

  7. I would disagree. Percentage of volume doesn’t really tell the consumer how it relates to regular cigarette’s nicotine content. But you can look up the nicotine content of different cigarette brands in milligrams (here for example: http://pw1.netcom.com/~rdavis2/smoke.html), and compare that to the mg content of an e-liquid.

    For example, Marlboro Reds have 1.1mg nicotine per cigarette, so 22mg per pack. A 1ml cartomizer gives about as many inhalations as a full pack (at least a good brand like Bloog’s MaxxFusion does), so our 24mg strength would be the closest match. Marlboro lights, OTOH, are only 0.8mg per cig, so our 16mg strength would be the best match.

    Percentage of volume is pretty useless, IMO. All you can do with that is compare different brands of e-liquid, and you can do that just as easily with MG.

  8. They are not giving the tobacco companies any money. Those are American companies and to be selling something with nicotine in it that didnt come from them is terrorism. It is against international law and also stealing.

    Plus they dont have tar in it and the tar is important for sales of American medicines and doctor services so they are stealing from them too.

    Getting nicotine in these illegal ways without paying for it is cheating.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here