You’ve seen the ads, we’ve all seen them. They’re almost ubiquitous on TV and in magazines.
One publication called 2013 the “Year of the E-cigs.” E-cigs are expected to seriously take off in 2014.
I can type “e-cig” into Google or into the Tobacco.org database and I will literally get hundreds of hits. You can find hundreds upon hundreds of articles about e-cigs all over the Internet. It reminds me of Googling “smoking ban” five years ago.
Here’s a sampling of articles I found.
I see them on sale now at every mini-mart I walk into. Two years ago, you never saw them for sale anywhere. E-cigs became a billion dollar industry in 2013, and the tobacco companies are jumping on board to get a piece of the pie (until now, mostly smaller companies made this things.) Blu, the biggest e-cig company out there was bought by Lorillard last year (Lorillard makes Newport cigarettes which are heavily marketed to African-Americans.)
But, what does it mean? And what are e-cigs, exactly?
E-cigs are not fully understood by a lot of people, but more people are learning. I related a story the other day about when Montana’s smoking ban went into effect, the state issued a ruling saying e-cigs were banned, too. After the state was given more information about what e-cigs were, the state quickly lifted that ban. It was obvious that state officials weren’t even sure what they were.
Here’s the deal, e-cigs are not literally an electronic cigarette. A better definition is that they are a battery-powered nicotine delivery system. Essentially the user gets a little jolt of nicotine-laced steam. They don’t have any smell, they don’t irritate the eyes. I’ve tried them. There is no flavour. You just get a jolt, like a cup of coffee.
Is this a bad thing? A good thing? I’m honestly on the fence here.
Honestly, on some levels, I don’t see a difference between e-cigs and nicotine patches. The person is getting a jolt of nicotine, but not the 1,000 other carcinogens and toxins contained in real cigarettes. There isn’t the benzene, formaldehyde, Polonium-210, toluene, acetone, cyanide and arsenic as found in tobacco.
[EDIT: Someone pointed out to me after reading this that some studies have shown there ARE some of these carcinogens found in e-cig vapour such as formaldehyde and toluene, etc., and that the vapour is not “pure” nicotine. I was not aware of these studies. The amount of these carcinogens is vastly lower than what is found in cigarettes. One study showed 9-450 times lower.]
But, what there is is nicotine. Nicotine itself is not well understood, either. It’s actually not the ingredient in cigarettes that gives people lung cancer (a lot of people believe it is.). Nicotine all by itself isn’t that bad for you, other than it’s not good for your blood pressure.
It isn’t that bad for you except for one devilish trait. It is incredibly addictive, possibly ounce for ounce the most physically addictive substance on the planet. Like heroin and cocaine, it’s an alkaloid that triggers an incredibly powerful addiction response. That’s the evil of nicotine. It physically addicts people to a product that is incredibly toxic and poisonous.
So, when a smoker puffs on an e-cig, they’re satisfying that nicotine addiction, similar to a nicotine patch, without all the other poisons. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. I don’t have a problem with nicotine patches. I would prefer people use patches or e-cigs than Chantix as a way to quit tobacco because of Chantix’s side effects of causing depression and suicide.
But one of the way nicotine patches work is through a regimen of lowering the dose of nicotine until the person can go “cold turkey.” The down side of e-cigs is sure, there’s not the same level of toluene and benzene, but you’re still feeding that addiction. And ultimately, if you want to break away from cigarettes, you have to break away from the nicotine.
In talking to people who use e-cigs, I’ve gotten mixed feedback. A lot of people use them so they can get their little jolts of nicotine when they go out because they’re no longer allowed to smoke anywhere. Some people have told me they helped them quit smoking, but most people told they don’t really help. Because they’re tasteless, they don’t satisfy the urge to smoke.
So, I remain on the fence. I simply cannot develop a strong opinion pro or con — though I detest the “sexy” advertising Blu is using to sell its product — using the same ad techniques that the tobacco industry has used for years to make their products look sexy and sophisticated. They might help some people quit smoking, but it appears, at least anecdotally, they aren’t that effective as a quitting tool. They aren’t as toxic as cigarettes, but they keep the nicotine addict addicted to nicotine. I know this, they aren’t going away, not anytime soon.