Thursday, September 16, 2010

Smoke'Em ... er, Vape'Em ... if You Got'Em

Got a package in the mail yesterday from Morey Straus in New Hampshire, containing "electronic cigarette" stuff. He's big on the idea and thought I might be too -- and he's right. I was planning to take a couple of weeks to produce a full review, but after only 24 hours I'm already sold and ready to talk about it.

The basic skinny on e-cigarettes is this:

Two soldiers of the Red Army have a break and smoke a cigarettes on the steps of the Reichstag in April 1945. Photo: Yevgeny Khaldeinull
Two soldiers of the Red Army have a break and smoke a cigarettes on the steps of the Reichstag in April 1945. Photo: Yevgeny Khaldeinull
An e-cigarette is composed of a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (usually, but not always, shaped and sized in reasonable facsimile of a "real" cigarette), an "atomizer" (a heating element) and a cartridge containing "e-juice" (a liquid which may, but does not necessarily, include nicotine among its ingredients).

When you "smoke" an e-cigarette, you're inhaling a vapor produced by the atomizer's heating of the "e-juice" in the cartridge instead of smoke produced by burning tobacco.

There are variations on the basic theme. For example, the model Morey sent me, the popular KR808D-1, combines the atomizer and the cartridge into one unit, the "cartomizer." Atomizers do burn out eventually but they apparently last a month or so in normal use, making the "cartomizer" reasonably cost-effective and the whole rig simpler (two pieces instead of three to mess with).

Why switch from tobacco to vapor? I can think of several reasons:

- I'm not a medical expert, but I doubt that "e-juice" (propylene glycol or vegetable glycerine, plus flavoring and nicotine) vapor is anywhere near as harmful to the lungs as inhaled tobacco smoke.

- Vapor is less problematic than tobacco smoke in other ways, too. It doesn't set off smoke detectors. It doesn't seem to linger in the air after being exhaled, or to create a lasting odor. There's no particular reason (although I'm sure the Nicotine Nazis will try to make some up) that you can't have a "vapor hit" at your desk at work or whatever instead of having to go find an outdoor "smoking area."

- The experience doesn't incentivize more, or more frequent, use. Light a cigarette, it burns until it's gone or until you put it out (which is an incentive for you to puff it continuously so as not to "waste" it). You can hit that electronic cigarette once a minute or once a day, then stick it back in your shirt pocket with no "waste" (and without setting yourself on fire). I think I'm "vaping" less than I smoked, simply because when it's an e-cigarette sitting there, I don't have smoke wafting up and reminding me to keep puffing.

- I haven't empirically verified this yet, but from prices and manufacturer claims it looks like "vaping" will be cheaper than smoking for me -- a 30-50% savings is my guess (and I'm a frugal smoker who buys the cheapest cigarettes available -- if you're a brand-name smoker, we're talking BIG savings here).

Some Q&A stuff:

Q: Can the e-cigarette be a pathway toward breaking the nicotine addiction?

A: I suspect it may be. There are two components to quitting cigarettes -- the physical nicotine withdrawal and the breaking of the habits involved.

With e-cigarettes, getting over those two humps can be broken into two smaller tasks instead of one big task. The "e-juice" can be ordered with more nicotine, less nicotine, or no nicotine at all. So the quitter can keep on "vaping" while reducing the amount of nicotine involved, then work on breaking the habit part once the physical withdrawal is accomplished.

Q: Does the "vaping" experience really replace smoking?

A: That was what I was skeptical of.

In the last 24 hours, since getting the e-cigarette, my "real" cigarette usage has gone down by about 75% (I'm already thinking that when I finish this carton, I won't be buying cigarettes any more).

The cartomizers Morey sent are a fairly mild tobacco-flavored blend ("555"), milder than I'm used to, but in terms of flavor, "throat hit" (part of the inhalation experience), etc., they strike me as a successful analog to "smoking" in pretty much every way.

Let me put it this way: I had to put my cigarette lighter away in a drawer today after twice absent-mindedly picking it up intending to light the e-cigarette. After a couple of hours of getting used to the KR808D-1, it feels familiar and comfortable in my hand, just like a "real" cigarette. It's a little longer, a little bigger around, a little heavier ... but I got used to it very quickly.

Do you recommend any particular models, vendors, etc.?

A: No. That's why I was planning to wait a couple of weeks before writing about this subject.

So far the only model I've used is the KR808D-1. I like it, but there are others, and every model seems to have plenty of advocates out there. What I like about the KR808D-1 is its simplicity (two pieces instead of three with the "cartomizers") and the fact that it's fairly close in size, shape and weight to a "real" cigarette. Your mileage may vary.

There are also quite a few vendors out there. I've ordered from one (Vapor Kings), but that was a few minutes before writing this post, so I can't yet review them for product quality, shipping time, etc. Others I've looked at include Vapor4Life and FreedomSmokeUSA.

I went with VaporKings because they had a good deal on something I wanted ($12.95 for a R808D-1 USB "passthrough" -- instead of recharging a battery, you just plug this into a USB port, screw in a cartomizer and "vape" to your heart's content -- you can't walk around with it, but I spend enough time at my computer that it makes sense; I'll save the portable KR808D-1 for when I'm out and about) and cheap shipping ($1.89 for USPS First Class).

While I was at it, I ordered some menthol "e-juice" (I've always liked menthol, but don't usually smoke menthol "real" cigarettes because they're allegedly even harder on the lungs than regulars).

I'll update or supplement this post with vendor experiences as time goes on.

Those who know me well often remark on how much I smoke -- Chris Carter probably based that character in X-Files on me circa 1993-95, when I was a three pack a day guy. I've been down to a pack and a half a day or so lately, but I've probably averaged two packs a day over the last 26 years. So this is a pretty big change for me. And I like it. Thanks, Morey!


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