Tuesday, March 25, 2014

E-Cigarettes: I See What You Did There, Matt Richtel

In the New York Times:

A dangerous new form of a powerful stimulant is hitting markets nationwide, for sale by the vial, the gallon and even the barrel.

The drug is nicotine, in its potent, liquid form -- extracted from tobacco and tinctured with a cocktail of flavorings, colorings and assorted chemicals to feed the fast-growing electronic cigarette industry.

The math in the article isn't very clear, but I did some quick and dirty calculations based on the density of e-juice (1.04 grams per milliliter if it's propylene glycol based, 1.26 grams per milliliter if it's vegetable glycerine based), the typical concentration of nicotine in "e-juice" (18mg per gram, although it can be bought lower or higher), the purported LD-50 for nicotine (there are competing theories, ranging low as 30-60mg or as high 500-1000mg for an adult human), etc.

The bad news for "it's just a scare tactic" skeptics, assuming my math is right:

At a typical 18mg per gram concentration, a typical personal use vial of "e-juice" would contain somewhere between 187mg and 227mg of nicotine. That's lower than those high-end estimates for LD-50, but much higher than the low-end estimates. So yes, anyone drinking a vial of "e-juice" like a shot of whiskey is almost certainly going to get sick, and might die.

On the other hand, most people keep lots of potentially dangerous stuff -- everything from bleach to aspirin to ammunition -- in their homes. Responsible people keep that dangerous stuff out of the reach of children and/or teach their children to stay away from it, and life goes on with no need for Matt Rachtel to write a scary story about it.

There's a reason for articles like this.

The "big tobacco" version of the e-cigarette is a disposable battery with the "e-juice" (available in two flavors, "tobacco" and "menthol") pre-packed into it. Right now, one of those batteries is somewhat less expensive than the equivalent number (in puffs) of "real cigarettes." Once the regulators get their way and the taxers start taking their rake-off, the price difference will probably be negligible at best.

The rigs that more adventurous "vapers" use come in multiple pieces. My eGo rig, for example, consists of separate battery and "clearomizer." The "clearomizer" is a tank, complete with the wiring that heats up the juice and makes it into breathable vapor.  I can put any flavor or concentration of "e-juice" into the tank, and it's a LOT cheaper than buying "real cigarettes."

The purpose of articles like this, in other words, is to justify driving Big Tobacco's competitors out of business by banning their cheaper, more consumer-friendly products in the name of "public health."

Watch. You'll see.
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