An Accidental Way to Quit Smoking
A look at e-cigarettes from the perspective of one happy user
I recently got hooked on a new toy that opened a world of discovery for me. I tried smoking an electronic cigarette, hoping to save a little money, and accidentally quit smoking. This is an amazing thing to say. How in the world can you “accidentally quit smoking” if you are a confirmed smoker? Seems impossible, but for me, at least, it’s true.
A Chinese man invented the electronic cigarette eight years ago. He was a smoker and his dad had just died from a smoking- related disease. He wanted a way to smoke more safely.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are 599 approved additives to cigarettes that you ingest when you smoke. The burning cigarette creates over 4,000 chemical compounds, many of which are toxic and/or carcinogenic. That is on top of the thousands of chemicals which naturally occur in tobacco. One of those is nicotine.
Nicotine is a naturally occurring liquid alkaloid, as is caffeine and, like caffeine, has a stimulating effect on the body. It stimulates the release of endorphins in the body, causing euphoria. It is also an addictive substance, and a significant reason why smokers continue to smoke. Nicotine, however, is not the reason why smoking is bad for your health. It’s the tars, chemicals and carcinogens in cigarette smoke that are the cause of most smoking-related health issues. This is why the American Heart Association refers to nicotine replacement therapy—dealing with the addiction to nicotine while avoiding combustible tobacco products—to be “safe and effective.
” “Nicotine alone is generally not harmful, it’s the other stuff in cigarettes, the carbon monoxide [produced] and other thousands of chemicals,” explained Dr. Edwin Salsitz, of the Division of Chemical Dependency at Beth Israel Medical Center. Believing it’s the smoke that’s most harmful to you, not the nicotine, Hon Lik invented a device that vaporizes a liquid that has nicotine and flavors in it. When you use it you mimic the smoking process, but you are only inhaling vapor, like the steam when you cook spaghetti noodles. Instead of ingesting the thousands of chemicals in cigarette smoke, you are inhaling a vapor that includes food flavoring, propylene glycol (used in fog machines, toothpaste and tons of other stuff) and nicotine.
Most people start out with an e-cig or “personal vaporizer” that looks like a traditional cigarette and request flavors that taste like tobacco. That lasts about three seconds. Soon one realizes that tobacco doesn’t taste anywhere near as good as coconut cream pie (my current favorite) or coffee mocha frapucchino or grape or cinnamon. I have also switched to a personal vaporizer that is bigger and looks more like a small flashlight, because it holds a bigger battery, so doesn’t need to be re-charged as often.
There is a rather big learning curve to e-cigs. You need to find the flavors you like, the nicotine level that suits you, and the device that’s easiest for you to use. There is a forum on the Internet ) that’s like AA for smokers who are switching to vaping. People give each other helpful advice, recommend excellent vendors, and discuss this amazing discovery. If you’ve got a minute, go there and read some of the success stories. They are worth it.
It was while exploring this forum that I learned aspects of vaping that fascinated me—political, social, legal, and biochemical. The political issues are caused to some degree by the potential impact e-cigs have on big government (loss of tax revenue), big tobacco (loss of cigarette profits) and especially big pharmacy (no more will smokers waste their money on “smoking cessation” products that have a 7 percent “success rate”). Do the math—that’s a 93 percent failure rate! So you can bet that these three groups oppose e-cigs big time.
The FDA classifies nicotine the same as caffeine. It is perfectly legal. It’s not good for you, but it’s not especially bad for you, either. In fact, nicotine has been used as an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, ADHD, MS and other diseases. You can now buy nicotine gum and patches over the counter. Yet the FDA is currently in a lawsuit because they are claiming that personal vaporizers are “drug-delivery devices” which have not been approved as safe. According to that logic, spoons are “drug-delivery devices” when used to deliver cough syrup to your child. Coffee cups are “drug-delivery devices” delivering caffeine.
Amazingly, anti-smoking groups are opposed to e-cigs. They have decided that smokers must quit their way, ingest no nicotine except from pharmaceutical cessation products that are expensive and ineffective, or die. They fail to see that nicotine is helping some people. They fail to see that harm reduction is a huge improvement. I am reminded of people who are opposed to condoms because they believe in celibacy. Well, assuming that celibacy isn’t happening a lot, what’s the next best alternative for disease and pregnancy prevention? Condoms. Assuming that some people are not managing to quit smoking, what’s the next best alternative? Smokeless products! These includes snus, snuff, chewing tobacco and personal vaporizers. Assuming that people are going to continue to drive their cars anyway, recommendations for using seatbelts for harm reduction have been enforced. It’s not safe to ride a motorcycle, but it’s safer with a helmet. Scheesch! We’re not going to get out of life alive, that’s for sure, but we can make decisions daily to reduce our harm.
Remember, it’s the smoke that’s bad for you, not necessarily the nicotine. The FDA, however, has said that in testing e-cigarettes, the products from two of the dozens of companies selling them included toxic chemicals; one brand included diethylene glycol, “an ingredient used in antifreeze.” What they didn’t mention, however, is the tested cigarette contained just one-tenth the amount of diethylene glycol contained in an aspirin—presumably considered to be safe. And while it can be used as a coolant, it is used as such only rarely.
Other toxic and/or carcinogenic traces the FDA found in the samples tested included nitrosamines—a cancer-causing agent also found in bacon and beer. Michael Siegal, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health, has responded: “As these data show, the level of tobacco-specific nitrosamines present in electronic cigarettes is at the trace level. It is measurable in parts per trillion (nanograms per gram). It is comparable to the nitrosamine levels in nicotine replacement products which are approved by the FDA.”
I’ve smoked cigarettes for 46 years. It had begun to be obvious that it was harming my health, but I’d tried to quit before and had failed each time. I tried the patch, hypnosis, support groups, Zyban, and cold turkey. I once quit for two years, but was never happy during that time and finally started smoking again because I was tired of fighting my desires so fiercely all the time. Stopping smoking had ruined my quality of life. Why is it that so many people continue to smoke, especially given the current social environment, where you are treated like a pariah—a leper? We continue to smoke even though the cost has gone through the roof due to “sin” taxes.
Research has shown that the addiction to smoking goes beyond the physical addiction to nicotine and can include psychosocial reasons that make quitting difficult. In addition, It looks like there are chemicals in cigarette smoke that really help people on a biochemical level. It looks like one of them is monoamine oxidase inhibitor, which works with dopamine in your brain. MAOIs are powerful anti-depressants, and there has been speculation in scientific circles that some people addicted to smoking are actually self-medicating themselves for depression.
This startling realization came about when in the testing process for buproprion as an anti-depressant, it was observed that trial participants were reporting a high level of smoking cessation. In addition to a new anti-depressant medication, the FDA approved buproprion (Wellbutrin, Zyban) as a stop-smoking aid.
I have come to realize that I am one of the people who actually needed something I was getting from cigarettes, and that I was still lacking that “something” with the personal vaporizer. So I began supplementing my vaping with the use of snus (rhymes with moose for those in the Pacific Northwest). Since then, I am again “comfortable in my own skin.”
People have used smoking for different reasons. Some are hooked on the “hand-to-mouth” part. Those people do fine with e-cigs at low or NO nicotine. Some people needed the nicotine, too. Those vape with whatever strength of nicotine works for them. Other people needed all that, but needed other stuff, too. I am one of those people. We need vaping and snus or vaping and continued minimal cigarette smoking. Some people needed only the extra stuff and do fine on snus alone. They stopped smoking and vaping.
The main ingredient in cigarettes is nicotine. Because of that, people focused on nicotine as the thing to alter in smoking cessation devices. But nicotine is just part of the picture. The best analogy I heard was likening cigarettes to pizza. In pizza, the main ingredient by far is the dough. In cigarettes, it’s nicotine. But the reason people eat pizza is the other stuff: pepperoni, artichoke hearts, cheese, and spices. Different people go for different parts, too. Even trace elements, like the basil, salt and pepper are crucial to the appeal of your favorite pizza.
I hope that e-cigarette manufacturers win their lawsuit against the FDA. I hope the FDA never bans e-cigarettes. In my opinion they are the best invention for harm reduction I’ve seen, ever, and that includes seatbelts in cars. No second-hand smoke to “harm” or piss off the guy next to you. Nothing’s on fire, so you won’t burn down your house. No disgusting smell. No ashtrays. Just luscious vapor and improved health! Sweet!
If you’re interested in trying e-cigarettes, Cathy says the best deals are generally found online—search any of the e-cigarette forums for what users have to say about a particular company and beware, she says, of free offers as they generally turn out to be financially debilitating.