Hi-tech, safe ‘cigarette’ may soon be up in smoke

It’s Nov 1, the traditional day for quitting bad habits, but e-cigs, which look real but are harmless, may soon be banned, says Jason Walsh

Hi-tech, safe ‘cigarette’ may soon be up in smoke

IT’S been years since smoking was cool, but neither that nor a ban on smoking in public buildings has stubbed out the habit. Electronic cigarettes might, if they aren’t banned, and it’s Nov 1, the day designated for quitting bad habits.

Invented by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik, e-cigs use a battery to atomise a liquid solution and deliver a smoke-like vapour to the lungs of the user.

The users, or ‘vapers’, inhale a compound of propylene glycol — the base used in asthma inhalers — food flavouring and, optionally, nicotine, getting the throat hit and psychological fix of a cigarette without smoking. No tobacco is involved, nothing burns and the exhaled vapour is odourless — it doesn’t smell of burnt leaves.

Vapers can flout the smoking ban — for now. E-cigs are popular with smokers tired of standing in the wind and rain on a night out, and with smokers for whom other methods of quitting were unsatisfactory.

Vaper Shane Dowling, from County Clare, previously smoked 40 cigarettes a day. “I started smoking 30 years ago, when I was nine. I tried everything to quit: patches, gum, Champix twice, willpower, and nothing worked,” he says.

Vapers did, and Dowling organised Vapefest Ireland, a meet-up for vapers held in Abbeyleix in September. Three hundred attended and Dowling hopes it will go annual. “I can’t stand the smell of being around smokers, my stomach turns,” says Dowling.

Celebrities are vaping. Leonardo DiCaprio, Paris Hilton, David Letterman, Dennis Quaid and Katherine Heigl have all been snapped vaping. As has Lindsay Lohan, though that may not be an endorsement.

In Ireland, vaping was a fringe activity but may soon be mainstream. A specialist shop, Ovale, has opened in Dublin’s Gardiner Street, Londis sells starter kits, and many convenience stores sell disposable units that last a day.

Gerry Feehily, from Bundoran, lives in Paris and started vaping when a friend sent him a starter kit. At first, Feehily was dubious.

“I secretly hoped the delivery would be delayed. But the ‘transfer’, if I can call it that, was almost immediate. During the next two days, I smoked an occasional real cigarette, but I actually found I preferred vaping on the virtual one.”

A two-packs-a-day man who’d cut down to 15 cigarettes, Feehily found the transition “miraculous”.

He hasn’t smoked since July and feels healthier: “More energy, greater sense of taste and smell, my gums have grown back, my teeth are clean,” he says.

Like many who switch to vaping, Feehily has become somewhat evangelical and has converted his elderly father.

“He’s 74, and has had health scares that were tobacco-related. He quit tobacco the day the kit arrived. When I was last back home, we went to our local pub for a pint, the two of us tooting merrily on our e-cigs. No-one passed remarks,” he says.

Not everyone is happy with vapers, though. Authorities in various countries have sought to outlaw them, or regulate them as medical devices. A US ban was overturned in court, but some municipalities have extended smoking ban legislation to cover e-cigs.

In September, Belgium banned the use of vapers in public buildings.

Research is thin, but most vapers report the aches and pains of smoking disappear and lung capacity increases. Although nicotine is toxic, it is not carcinogenic and the doses used in e-cigs are too low to poison.

Cassanda Campbell, from Dublin, who, under the name Pink Vaper, reviews e-cigarette products online, says the prohibitionist impulse is irritating.

“Every time I look around, there’s another ban or petition. We’re being treated like children who can’t make decisions for themselves,” she says.

In Ireland, opposition has been muted, but real. The Irish Pharmacy Union ordered members to remove e-cigarettes from their shelves, and the Dublin-based TobaccoFree Research Institute has expressed scepticism, saying it is not in favour of anything that could promote the idea of smoking.

In the meantime, the numbers of vapers continue to grow — and the market with them.

Campbell is branching out from reviews, opening an online store aimed at women, Pure Vapour, and has bigger plans: “My next venture, hopefully, will be a lounge where you can have a vape and a coffee,” she says.

My habit has been Vapourised

I QUIT smoking in January. It’s a new year cliché, but any time is a good time to quit. No patches, no gum and, apparently, no speaking: the main thing I did on my first week off cigarettes was to barely talk. Not a great start. After sparking up again, I decided to investigate e-cigs.

When I heard Londis was stocking reusable vapourisers, I bit. I’ve not smoked a single cigarette since that day six months ago. It’s not entirely like smoking — if anything it’s more pleasant, and certainly stinks a lot less — but it’s close enough. Since then I’ve spent over €150 trying out different models and flavours and, in the last month, weaned myself off nicotine.

Had I known what I was looking for, I could have saved most of this and spent no more than €40 on the lot. The unit I eventually settled on is much larger than a cigarette and has a USB port on the bottom so I can keep it plugged-in while I vape. As bizarre as this sounds (and looks), it’s important: the more cigarette-like the device, the shorter the battery life. Rechargeable cigarette-a-likes can last as little as two hours, which is obviously less than ideal.

Next month the plan is to quit altogether. They may not be intended as an aid to stopping, and many vapers have no intention of quitting, but they worked for me.

Jason Walsh

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