It’s been a month, so I suppose there’s a chance it will hold: after several decades, I’ve quit smoking. Indeed, the last time I’d gone this long without a cigarette I was probably 16 years old. There is nothing that would delight me more than to be able to tell you that it has been an heroic struggle, unless maybe it would be to say that I feel oh-so-much better. Neither of those things would be true, though.
In fact, I hadn’t planned on quitting smoking at all. It just happened.
The whole thing began when I was at a local shop that deals in tobacco products. A prominent display offered “electronic cigarettes.” What were those?
Turns out, they’re the new vice for the digital age.
Looking like a regular filtered cigarette, they comprise a white part — that’s the battery — and a tan (or green, for menthol) part, which contains the good stuff.
When one draws air through the “e-cigarette,” a small switch inside tells a tiny heating element to get hot, vaporizing a mixture of water, glycerine or something similar, and a small amount of nicotine. This vapor then is inhaled, as if smoking a cigarette. Much, perhaps most, of the vapor remains to be exhaled, so it’s a serviceable imitation of smoking — without any smoke.
After awhile, the battery goes dead and must be recharged; likewise, the little cartridge containing the consumable product runs out and must be replaced. Spares are necessary.
The cartridges can be had containing varying amounts of nicotine, so that those who would like to quit entirely can taper down. Some companies even offer cartridges that contain flavor but no nicotine, for persons who keep the habit after the addiction is gone. (Companies, too, offer different flavors: vanilla, coffee, chocolate, and so on. This seems ridiculous when thinking of cigarettes and their inherent smoky taste, but there is no smoke here.)
I did research the whole “e-cigarette” phenomenon before I gave it a try. There seems little doubt that it is less harmful to a person than smoking is, but that’s not at all to say that it’s harmless. All of the companies I’ve seen that market the product say that it is not for nonsmokers, and I agree with that.
Additionally, I’ve discovered that there are “reviews” of various brands that one can read online. Some of these “reviews” suspiciously contain discount codes from at least one manufacturer, with the codes differing from reviewer to reviewer, and that leads me to suppose that the reviewer has a financial interest in the product’s success.
The “e-cigarette” is cheaper , after the initial cost ($50 to $100 or so) is spread out — refills, which cost about $3 apiece, are approximately the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes. When one goes empty, there is either a fairly unpleasant scorched taste or no taste at all.
It surprised me, but after switching to the new electronic device I have had not the slightest desire to smoke a cigarette. No nicotine fits, of course, and no particular trouble from the change in habits.
To be sure, there is a change in habits. The ashtray is obviated, as is the lighter. The mechanics of drawing from an electronic cigarette are slightly different from smoking a cigarette. They do take a little getting used to. For instance, one knows when one has finished a cigarette; it’s weird trying to figure out the number of electronic puffs that equal a cigarette.
But the benefits are tangible. The new gadget produces neither smoke nor other odor. The house doesn’t smell smoky anymore. My clothes don’t, either. Nor do I.
I’m still experimenting with the thing. I’ve learned that when it becomes difficult to draw, unscrewing the “filter” a quarter turn makes things easier. I’ve also gotten a version which has no battery — instead, it has a wire that plugs into the USB port on my computer and gets power that way while transforming my appearance to that of some strange science-fiction character, drawing sustenance from the machine before me. It would be easy to convince someone gullible that the vapors are actually coming from inside the computer.
The imagination provides plenty of fanciful notions, too, about the “e-cigarette.” It efficiently delivers nicotine. How nice it would be to have cartridges that contain, say, Hall’s Mentholyptus to ease sore throats and coughs. The system might be good for the delivery of drugs — no, I mean the legal kind — because it would get them into the system quickly. The technology alone looks to have some potential.
That’s for someone else to develop and for me and thee to marvel over. For now, I find the electronic cigarette to be a useful alternative to smoking, an alternative that does not eliminate the dangers but that seems to lessen them.
Which no doubt means that someone will launch a campaign against them, and regulators will get involved, and the prices will go up, and it will be ruined.
Maybe I’ll get weaned off entirely by then.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.