E-Cigarettes - what are they, anyway?

This section is mostly historical at this point as I don’t plan to be doing many significant updates, and some of the content is rather old right now (from circa 2010, vs it being 2020 as I type this). The information is still useful from the perspective of the journey of stopping smoking and moving to e-cigarettes, but not necessarily for specific models of e-cigarettes, as they’ve come a long way. Refer to the Intro page for a quick 2020 update.

The article below was originally done in 2009 but is still generally relevant.

What’s this electronic cigarette thing anyway?

I didn't know myself, until very recently. I am and have been a smoker, and know that I should be thinking about quitting smoking. And indeed, I have thought about it. I've done it even, for a few weeks, but inevitably, have found myself back at it again so far.

Why? Well, I'm not entirely sure. I used to play a lot of sports, and while not a gym rat, am still reasonably active, and can tell it's had an impact on my cardio, and that bothers me. But at the same time, I do sort of like it. It relaxes me, focuses me, and at times, just gives me a break from whatever I need a break from at the moment. It's comforting, even while knowing it's not good for me. And yes, it tastes good, something that only smokers are likely to appreciate, as it certainly wasn't an immediate love for the taste. That's even outside the addictive properties of nicotine, and who knows what else in the mixture of several thousand chemicals making up the 'chemical bliss' most tobacco companies mix into their cigarettes (so much for just tobacco and a filter...)

So, why not just keep smoking? I know I've been working a lot lately, and frequently from home, which tends to make me smoke more, and I've been feeling it more when I'm working in the yard. My best friend and his wife quit, surprisingly, maybe that's a part of it; I've just been thinking about it more lately. But yet, I do enjoy smoking.

Regardless, when working consistently long days at times, one tends to need a break. Mine usually consists of walking outside for a bit for lunch when I'm working from my home office, and taking a longer break around dinnertime, either seeing a movie, or sometimes checking the news or general random browsing for 1-2 hours before getting back to it. A few weeks back, during a working weekend, I came across the E-cigarette..I'm no longer even sure where I first saw it, but it did pique my interest.

It looks like a cigarette, or at least some to most of them have anywhere from a passing resemblance to very close to a normal smoke. It doesn't contain the several thousand additives thrown into cigarettes, some of which are highly likely to be more dangerous than nicotine, tar, and the more obvious concerns with normal cigarettes. (Think rat poison or arsenic, for an idea of the sort of 'extras' in normal cigarettes, Google away if you truly believe otherwise..) It doesn't smell like a cigarette, which so many non-smokers love to ramble on about. In fact, it doesn't even really burn! (More on this one later).

Can they help me quit smoking?

Well....maybe. They're not marketed nor approved as Nicotine Reduction Therapy aids, such as the gums and patches are..but they are capable of delivering nicotine, in varying doses. They can also be had with virtually any choice of 'flavors,' from vanilla or chocolate, to red tea and the more truly bizarre, or imitations of Camel, Marlboro, Kent and other more traditional options...with or without nicotine. Nicotine levels are really determined by the user, being able to purchase in differing doses of nicotine. So at least on the surface, they seem to be capable of helping someone to quit smoking, by lowering the nicotine levels over time, even down to zero, while satisfying the 'habit' to different extents in the meanwhile. Some people continue to smoke their Marlboros or Camels, alongside their e-cigs, but many do indeed cut down significantly on their 'analog cigarettes' (versus the 'digital,' or electronic ones), or quit entirely, in favor of their electronic cigarettes, and smoking, or 'vaping' them only.

How do they work?

This part is actually pretty interesting, and also quite simply. Take a lithium battery and shape it roughly into a cigarette, and connect a small heating coil (or atomizer) with a small wick, a dosage of liquid inside of a small tube, or cartridge, to be delivered to the atomizer, and then add a mouthpiece which looks either like a cigarette filter, or a pipe style mouthpiece, and there you have it. It's activated by either a manual momentary on switch (hold it down when you want it on, it's nearly instant on/off), or by simply inhaling, or sucking on the 'filter end,' much like a cigarette, by a pressure switch inside the battery itself. Most models even have an LED at the 'ash end,' which will glow like an ember (or not, if you get one with a blue LED instead) when you're taking a drag on your 'smoke.' It all pops together quite easily, in under 30 seconds for most people.

It's actually quite clever, and simple. When the battery activates, either via the manual or pressure switch, the atomizer heats up, and essentially turns the liquid into vapor, which you then inhale (or don't, like a cigar, if you prefer). You may feel a 'throat hit' at the back of your throat, just like when you take a drag off a normal tobacco cigarette. When you exhale, vapor is exhaled, looking quite similar to tobacco smoke, but is dissipated within a few short seconds, as well as being virtually 100% odor free.

The cartridge has a limited lifespan, and can be purchased in bulk, or in packages of 4 or 5 at a time, at a cost savings over 'the real thing,' and once you're no longer 'getting any smoke,' a cartridge can be changed out for a new one, perhaps with that new vanilla almond flavor you've ben meaning to try.

Is it healthy for you?

I'm fairly convinced that no matter what people think today, many things simply aren't good for you. Remember that people used saccharine and other things in the past for the sake of 'health' or diet, and much worse. Some companies seem to market the e-smokes as 'healthy,' and the anti-smoking fanatics consider nothing but total abstinence a 'solution' to the health problem that smoking (tobacco) cigarettes pose, so of course, would have you believe these are simply horrible for you, or some scary unknown, with even the media making some rather incorrect statements and/or assumptions about electronic cigarettes.

Oh, I'm sorry...did I not answer the question? Sorry, I can't. I can say that the contents of the solution turned into vapor, called 'e-liquid,' 'juice,' 'e-juice,' 'e-smoke' and others, has some pretty simple ingredients when compared to the Marlboro in your pocket. PG, or propylene glycol(this is not antifreeze  - ehtylene glycol), along with water, makes up the majority of the liquid. PG has actually been tested and shown to kill some forms of airborne viruses and germs, and is marked as safe by the FDA (it also used to be used to flood hospital wards as an anti-bacterial, is in many products - including cosmetics and toothpaste), albeit for oral consumption at this time. It's also contained in a huge assortment of food products, many of which you likely eat on a near daily basis.

What else? Well, it does contain nicotine in different dosages, a minor amount of alcohol, and flavoring. While none of the contents in the majority of e-juices analyzed contain anything deemed as harmful for oral consumption, there is of course the possibility that when inhaled, or in some combination with other ingredients, we may yet determine there is some level of harm possible.

However, having said that, with the low number of ingredients in e-liquid, compared to cigarettes, many feel quite confident their e-smoking is significantly less dangerous than smoking tobacco cigarettes, and I've to date, seen no reason to disbelieve this myself, after a fair amount of investigation.

It sounds too good to be true - is it?

Once again....it depends. E-cigs are a recent invention, only becoming available in the US in ~2008, and is indeed in it's relative infancy. It's not yet a buy once, use forever type of device. A basic kit, consisting of a few flavored cartridges, a battery, an atomizer, and a charger, can run anywhere from $30USD to upwards of $150 or higher. Quality varies wildly in some cases, and simply because you may have seen one in the local mall, doesn't mean it's the best, nor are they all 'equals.' Battery life ranges from an hour up to 7-8 hours of use, and atomizers as well as batteries can and do fail, with some atomizers or batteries DOA out of the box, and others lasting for months, or longer (usually the batteries, atomizers generally are consumable over time). Most people advise at the very least, having a spare battery and atomizer on hand, but the point really being - it's not a 'perfected' technology yet, which may be appealing to some, and less so to others. It doesn't mean you'll have a bad experience, though, but doing some research can go a long ways, and simply don't expect your first purchase to necessarily be your last, either. Even in the best of worlds, unlike cigarettes, e-cigs are improving as different models and technologies advance, so it's quite likely at some point you'll want to 'upgrade,' or simply try something new.

Already, the FDA, who has recently gained control over regulation on tobacco cigarettes, has the potential to gain control over these as well, with bans hinted at and speculated over. Isn't it nice when our government decides that they should make our decisions of rus instead of us?! Here's some information regarding the Walker Bill . Feel free to do your own research, and draw your own conclusions, but many of us would prefer to have our choices made by us, and information, over a government often having choices made by people unknowledgeable about the matter at hand. If you'd like to see smokers presented with a likely safer alternative, even if you are not a smoker yourself (would you like to see less second hand smoke? Have your friends who do smoke live longer?), please consider signing the Petition to the FDA to keep electronic cigarettes available.

No matter what you decide, make up your own mind on electronic cigarettes, preferably by doing research and critical thinking. Perhaps they are indeed a less harmful option than smoking tobacco, one you might still enjoy, and your non smoking friends and family (and possibly your health) may thank you for one day.

How can I find out more?

Where else, but the Internet? Hours and hours await you, at the E Cigarette Forum and many other resources online.  Refer to the intro page for some (updated in 2020) medical and research links.