June 29, 2009

Review, Kinda: The E-Cigarette
— Ace

It's a kinda-sorta review because I've only had this thing three days and I barely even know how to smoke it yet.

But here are my first reactions.

First of all, if you smoke, you want this, ASAP. 1, Smoking is a killer, 2, our government is (of course) revving up the machinery to outlaw them to keep cigarette makers happy and the huge federal taxes on cigarettes flowing. So if you're going to get one, you should probably get one before prohibition and the black market mark-up.

I don't even think it really matters how "good" the e-cigarette is It's gotta be better than death. If you don't know what these things are, they're electronic cigarettes. They're fake cigarettes -- a battery, an atomizer, and a cartridge containing liquid nicotine in a water solution. When you drag on the tip of the "cigarette," a tiny computer registers that, turns on the atomizer, which heats the liquid, turning it into a vapor, and then you draw that into your mouth and lungs.

Kinda like smoking a real cigarette, except there is no actual smoking or smoke. The process does not involve burning. It's heating the liquid into a vapor, but not burning anything. Critically, then, there is no smoke and no carcinogens (from what I understand) going into your lungs at all.

There's also no smoke smell. The vapor can have a tobacco flavor, but that flavor is artificial and added to the liquid to make it taste more like a cigarette. Nicotine itself has no smell or taste.

Supposedly you can take these into restaurants and into stores and even on airplanes and it's not illegal to "smoke" them because, again, you're not smoking anything. I tried doing it in a restaurant and store and didn't get anyone yelling at me, but maybe they just didn't notice.

So, are they really just like real cigarettes? So far, no, but that is partly because I haven't learned yet to correctly drag on the cigarette. It's actually a different mechanical process than dragging on a real one, and you have to condition yourself to draw slowly, smoothly, and for two or three seconds rather than sucking in in a quick intake, as with a cigarette. If you do that with an e-cigarette, you wind up either not getting any vapor at all, or getting a lot of vapor that doesn't actually make it into your mouth or lungs.

As I've consciously trained myself to draw on the e-cigarette properly, it's gotten more like a real cigarette, but I'm not going to lie to you: At best, it's a close substitute for a cigarette, but there is no getting around that word "substitute." It is an alternate nicotine delivery system which mimics some of the mechanics of cigarette-based nicotine delivery, but which remains stubbornly ersatz. (BTW: Maybe that will change: A lot of people seem to love the things, based on message board praises.)

On the other hand, it doesn't deliver the drawbacks of smoking, either, such as ever-escalating price and yellowed teeth and stinky clothes. And, oh, cancer. It's not as cheap as the makers claim -- they claim that a filled nicotine cartridge, costing around $1 or $2, equals a whole pack of cigarettes; in fact, it's more like half a pack, and maybe less for a beginning e-smoker. Still cheaper, but not as cheap as advertised.

Most manufacturers keep the nicotine content of their cartridges pretty low, and thus make it hard to get a real nicotine buzz going; but some manufacturers offer nicotine replacement fluid with a lot more kick. (150% or 200% the "High" nicotine content of most cartridges -- I'm about to buy the 150% one. I heard the 200% is way too strong.) That also means you tend to get less use out of each cartridge, as you puff more, trying to get more nicotine out of your fake Star Trek cigarette.

So far the thing is working okay for me. It's not so much a perfect cigarette replacement as advertised -- if I only cared about smoking, I'd stick with cigarettes. But it is a very good smoking-cessation product. I've had it three days and have had about four actual cigarettes per day since then. I haven't completely given up real cigarettes yet, but going from a pack and a half to two packs a day down to four cigarettes a day is pretty good. (Tomorrow, I'm going to do one. Just the morning cigarette, and no more.) Because it's so damn hard to to get a decent draw of nicotine out of the thing if you're 1) a novice and 2) using the low-nicotine cartridges that most manufacturers offer, I do have withdraw symptoms including patches of irritability and some occasional nicotine craving.

On the other hand, I'm not coughing and not waking up with nicotine-withdrawal headaches. (The latter because the device weans you off nicotine, just because it's hard to get a full dose of the stuff.)

Anyway, if you've heard of this and have been interested: I do have to recommend it. I have to let you down gently and tell you no, it's not as if you'll never miss a real cigarette or anything, but, again, it's much cheaper (excepting the $70-120 initial cost, which, really, is just two or three or four cartons of cigarettes at this point anyway).

The one I have, by the way, is the Smoking Everywhere basic model, the one they sell at malls. I don't know if I'd buy this particular model again -- as a heavier smoker, I think I'd've gone with the Titan model this woman recommends, for a big blast of vapor that might be able to pass for a real drag on a cigarette. Plus the Extra High Strength replacement nicotine fluid.

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