E-cigarettes are delicious -- and dangerous / by sylvia kronstadt
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|Tue, 08-27-2013 - 11:53am|
The E-Cigarette Seduction: Are We Blowing It?
After having smoked since high school, I finally gave it up 10 years ago. I broke the habit. I was free. I was sad that I had to give up this comfort, but I was gratified that I was able to do it and move on.
Enter e-cigarettes. The moment I first saw someone on TV exhaling a cloud of vapor, a little devil in my brain (or maybe it was an angel who felt deprived of simple pleasures) leapt to the forefront of my mind.
Was it really possible that I could smoke again? I still missed it. Not inhaling actual smoke, which I now found disgusting. But here was this substitute that would allow me once again to enjoy the languid pleasure of taking in and releasing a fragrant and tasty breeze. Smoking is so relaxing! I felt uneasy but excited.
I bought a starter kit of a simple, generic style. They had sneaked some vanilla into the menthol, which seemed kind of presumptuous. But when I fired up that first cartridge and took a deep draw, and blew it out my lips and nostrils, I was immediately in a billowy Heaven. It was the most enjoyable smoke of my life.
Within a few days, I was overdoing it. Within two or three weeks, I was hooked. Again.
Last year, e-cigarette sales in the U.S. exceeded $300 million. This year, they will be about $1.7 billion, Bloomberg reports. Within four years, sales are projected to reach $10 billion. That's plain scary.
The big tobacco companies -- Reynolds, Altria and Lorillard -- have already moved forcefully into the e-cig market, each with its own special branding and style. Analysts predict e-cigarette consumption could surpass traditional cigarettes within the next decade.
My plan had been to use the e-cigarette simply as an after-dinner treat. I was determined not to become an actual smoker again -- this was just going to be "dessert." Pretty soon, I was using it as a reward for sitting at my computer, being productive with my blog. Throughout the day, I began having a vague sensation, which I came to realize was pleasant anticipation. It was like my unenlightened past, when I could hardly wait to get home and have a smoke. Only now, I'm home all the time, and that cigarette is lying there seductively, always "lit." I am puffing away as I write this. My strategy is that when this post is finished, and I hit the "publish" button, I will be ready to throw away all the paraphernalia and put a stop to this madness. I hope I can drag this process out long enough to try the caramel, chocolate and turkish java before I say "good riddance" to this whole freaky phenomenon.
Or will I be more in its grips than ever?
TAKE ARETHA'S ADVICE: "YOU BETTER THINK"
It don't take too much high IQ's to see what you're doing to me."
What they're doing to us is the essence of capitalism: They're creating a massive, enthusiastic market for a product that people will feel compelled to purchase regularly, forever.
Through their savvy advertising, and promotional stunts in major cities and velvet-rope clubs, they are creating an excitement and urgency that almost feels like a mass movement. The explosion in the color and diversity of the product ignites a kind of manic energy. It's dazzling. It's party time in Consumerland. You want to try them all.
"It don't take too much high IQ's" to see what they're doing to us. Am I overestimating the appeal of smoking? Can you overestimate the appeal of candy and ice cream? E-cigs are a yummy form of candy and ice cream that make you very fly, very much "da bomb," totally "mod," without making you fat. When was the last time someone offered you such a good deal?
Nobody knows how many of those who are buying e-cigarettes never have and never would have used tobacco. I bet it's a lot. And kids of any age can buy them online just by hitting the button that says, "I am 18 or over." Are you feeling nerdy, or are you leaning toward psychedelic? Your wish is their command:
E-cigs represent a new craze, which might achieve the status of a staple, like sunglasses, jeans and tattoos. This joyous consumer scramble could easily lead to another era, in which e-smoking -- known as "vaping" -- could become as ubiquitous as smoking tobacco was during its heyday. This worries me on a lot of levels.
E-cigarettes are dangerously fabulous. They're fun and adorable. They're gorgeous. It feels good to hold them. It is exquisite to blow them. They're selling out everywhere. They're on back order, in stores and online -- even the starter kits, which generally cost $80 to $100 dollars. They're being "scalped," like tickets to a Springsteen concert. People are on "standby"! Groovy "vaping" outlets are popping up everywhere, and e-cigs are also widely available at major retail and convenience stores. Some people have already gotten so attached to their tasty pacifiers that after-hours "emergency pickup" is offered:
"A CLASSIC DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY"
These clever devices are, as one analyst phrased it in Bloomberg Businessweek, "a classic disruptive technology." Disruptive is a strong word. I think it's accurate. I think this product will be disruptive in a number of ways. Maybe it will be all right. I rather doubt it.
In my opinion, e-cigarettes are much more enjoyable than "old fashioned" cigarettes. They are being rolled out with great fanfare and frisson, like the annual couture collections, and boutiques are springing up, where you can order a "custom blend" of flavors and tweak the amount of nicotine. This is a mass-market commodity that's being sold like a niche item, a gourmet delicacy.
In a world of neon miniskirts and glittery lip gloss, hot nightspots and artsy coffee houses, trendy beverages and epidemic faddism, e-cigarettes are giddily alluring. Unlike merlot or shoulder pads, they are not likely to be a passing fancy, unless science and governments get their acts together and enact reasonable regulations.The jury is still out on the health impacts of e-cigarettes, and it is shocking how little effort has been made to assess their safety. The FDA is considering a ban on online sales of e-cigarettes to cut down on sales to minors, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, and discussing whether to curtail advertising. A roster of proposed rules is expected in October. On June 12, the U.K. government said e-cigs should be regulated as medicines to ensure quality and safety. France plans to ban e-cigs from public venues; several U.S. cities have already.
A major controversy has already developed over whether regulations banning smoking in indoor spaces and public places should apply to e-cigarettes. E-smokers express jubilation at finally being able to "light up" in bars and restaurants, and at the office, once again. But many patrons and colleagues, having become accustomed to a smoke-free environment, object. They don't care whether it's toxic smoke or a vapor that has unknown "secondhand" effects. I respect their concerns and think the indoor bans should be kept in place, at least for the time being. Even so, I have always believed that bars and clubs should be able to permit cigarette smoking or ban it, and I feel the same way about e-cigs. That's where smoking has always been most widespread, and I think that option should be permitted.
But to me, the larger issue is that these products are rapidly transforming our attitude toward smoking, and are negating the social norms against smoking that took decades, and hundreds of millions of dollars, to put in place.
Smoking is an addiction, whether it causes lung cancer and heart disease or not. Most people become addicted to the nicotine, of course. E-cigarettes have not been shown to be an effective smoking cessation aid. A few of us -- once referred to as "chippers" -- don't respond to the nicotine but become addicted to the oral and sensual gratification of using cigarettes.
One's relationship with e-cigarettes can stealthily evolve from initial delight to mindless puffing to compulsion to addiction. It is not a good thing, even though the most devastating aspects of smoking tobacco have been eradicated. The feeling of enslavement to anything is a psychological handicap, certainly not good for our self-esteem or our sense of autonomy. And we, people all over the world -- are blithely jumping into this festive new fad of "vaping" as if it were just a new kind of manicure.
Celebrities like Simon Cowell, Dennis Quaid, Katherine Heigl, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Moss, Jenny McCarthy, and my adopted "Save the Children" son, Bruno Mars, are all strutting around, conspicuously blowing steam, and probably being paid to do so.
We don't need their influence. The product itself is attractive enough.
WAITING TO EXHALE
I can't believe how quickly my freedom from dependency and obsession were blown to hell. The very thought of running out of cartridges made me panic. Out of the blue, I felt like a junkie, with trembling hands and dilated pupils. I bought more, even though I already had enough to last me for weeks. It reminded me of the phase when I was in a desperate love-hate relationship with opiates.
Much more important than my own plunge back into this little prison cell of infantile, oral ecstasy, I can't believe how e-cigarettes are blowing to hell decades of urgent public health efforts to eradicate smoking by providing solid scientific information, and by flipping the image of smoking on its sick, stupid head.
Our society had finally evolved to regard smoking as not cool, not glamorous, not sexy or intellectual. No longer did we envision it as an aspect of sociability, leisure or festivity. At last, the images we were seeing of people having wine on a balcony, playing poker, talking in bed, chatting at a sophisticated party over hor d'oeuvres or plotting some brash spy mission in Prague, had no cigarettes involved.
Our young people had been successfully indoctrinated to regard smoking as asinine and revolting. Statistics reported this morning by ABC News indicate that the sale of tobacco to minors in the U.S. were held near all-time lows last year under a federal-state inspection program intended to curb underage usage.
But e-cigarettes present a whole new paradigm.
In oldtime movies, smoking had looked so refreshing and sophisticated. In the TV and magazine ads, it was depicted either as the pastime of rugged, accomplished men or dreamy, liberated women. The packaging was beautiful.
Even after the Surgeon General released the first of many warnings about the health effects of smoking in 1964, the nation was slow to take action. Over decades, a brilliant assault was waged. Both the news media and the public-service media skillfully selected images of smokers and smoking that made it look nauseating, even to me, while I was still a "user." Public health policy around the country turned smokers into outcasts, pariahs, pathetic losers huddled under awnings to get a "fix." Even France and Italy -- and more recently China -- have begun cracking down on smoking. (Ironically -- or is it? -- e-cigarettes were invented by a Chinese pharmacist about 10 years ago, and pretty much all of them are made in China.) It had seemed that the world was finally agreeing on something and was waging war on the same enemy. It was a rather inspiring spectacle.
HEY! YOU! GET ONTO MY CLOUD
Today, after four decades in which television advertising for cigarettes has been banned, cigarettes are being advertised alluringly there and everywhere else. It's a shocking turnaround.
But the combination of this new technology with an aggressively competitive campaign to sign people up for e-cigarettes has changed the whole picture with breathtaking speed. We hear about how everything is "in the cloud" these days, referring to computer data, but maybe before long we'll all be physically in a cloud of ubiquitous aromatic vapor. This global scramble has about it the unruliness of the Wild West combined with the elegance of a Parisian salon and the neon freak-out of an urban dance club. It would be fun to watch this new "reality show" -- which has about it the drama and the stakes of a high-stakes sport -- except that one has to be dismayed about where it's probably heading.
"WARDROBES" OF E-CIGS TO GO WITH EVERY OUTFIT AND OCCASION
E-cigarettes are being marketed as a fabulous fashion accessory, with colors, patterns and handsome materials to complement every outfit and mood. Your e-cigarette says who you are! Saucy and lighthearted. Classically tailored. Rebellious. Ruggedly manly.
Maybe smoking jackets will make a return, after their long and painful obscurity?
These are beautiful objects, that are being made more beautiful in their form and packaging as we speak. They feed right in to the love young people have for the physical beauty and feel of their tech gadgets. They also resemble the finest personal care products, whose shapes, colors, logos and image have more impact on sales than do the products themselves.
At first glance, the flavors seem designed to attract the lollipop and gummy bear crowd, and I'm sure they do. Wouldn't your kid be salivating at the mention of cherry, pina colada, peach pie, chocolate, grape, cola, apple, banana, blueberry, grapefruit, caramel, cotton candy, coconut, vanilla, or fruit punch? For those with traditional adult tastes, the e-cigs also come in java, champagne, clove, turkish tobacco, and ginger.
But I was surprised to discover how enjoyable the touch of vanilla was in my menthol e-cig, and now I'm more open to a few other flavors.
FORGET THE BARBEQUE -- LET'S JUST STUFF OURSELVES WITH CIGARETTES
Wouldn't it be fun, depending on what social caste you're in, to host a "tasting" or a "potluck," at which your guests could sample all those flavors? Divine! Perhaps a new job description will be necessary, similar to the wine expert, or sommelier, who assists diners with selection and "pairings." We could call him a "puffoon," and he could advise us on which flavor goes best with various drinks: like clove with a cup of coffee, or banana with hot chocolate, or ginger with gin, or chocolate with bourbon, or vanilla with kahlua and cream. Would caramel work well with spiked egg nog? How about cherry with sangria? Or grapefruit with a margarita? Isn't this opening up a whole new world of partying, just as fondue did 50 years ago?
But I have been unwilling to smoke publicly since the 1980s, and I still feel the same. I enjoy my solitary moments, looking out at my backyard forest. It reminds me of the 1970s ad campaign that made smoking seem so beautiful and special, with its majestic autumn trees: "This is the L&M Moment."
A MEGAHIT WITH THE MILLENNIALS
E-cigarettes are arguably the most attractive and enticing consumer products to be introduced in years, with the exception -- obviously -- of the costly but magical high-tech gear that has flooded our lives. They have already sparked a truly crazy craze among the so-called Millennial generation (age 20-35) -- who accounted for 44 percent of the market as of Spring 2013, according to Forbes -- and they will very likely seduce ever-younger and older demographics as well.
WHY DO I SMOKE THEE? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS
I don't blame the Mormon Church for my 40-year tobacco habit, but it is true that my friends and I began both smoking and drinking in high school in large part to repudiate the oppression we experienced as a result of its intolerance at that time.
I take complete responsibility for continuing to smoke. Since my lifestyle was otherwise so healthy -- beautiful food, lots of exercise, dozens of supplements -- I thought maybe I was one of those people who could smoke into her 90s and suffer no ill effects. That turned out not to be the case. I developed hyperinflated lungs, a symptom of emphysema that reflects the loss of elasticity in the alveoli. So I quit.
Isn't smoking a bizarre and puzzling phenomenon? In 1980, I read the fanciful book by Tom Robbins, "Still Life With Woodpecker," and he explained in terms that were very compelling to me:
Isn't that nice? But my motivation was always more mundane.
When I was alone (and much of my life as a writer in New York was very solitary), cigarettes were my companion. They turned "me" into "we."
ENVISIONING A VAPOROUS FUTURE
If this whole thing plays out to its logical extreme, I see e-cigarette superstores eventually replacing the hushed, classy boutiques and the funky "vape" shops, just as Barnes & Noble eradicated cute little bookstores.
These vast, visually overloading outlets will sell every color, pattern, style, flavor, and intensity imaginable. You will have the ability to submit your own designs, to produce patterns for special occasions, to personalize them for gifts or party favors. Maybe some will emit different kinds of light, to treat seasonal affective disorder, or to stimulate alpha or theta brain waves, or to spur the release of melatonin at bedtime.
E-cigarettes will, of course, be called upon to multitask, like everything and everyone else. There is certainly no acceptable reason why an e-cig can't be used as a telephone. Or a dictaphone. Or a microphone. Or a telescope or microscope or sex toy. Or a flashlight or emergency beacon.
Perhaps your text messages will appear, like skywriting, as you exhale your vapors.
The mouthpiece might be used to monitor the levels of stress hormones and bacteria in your mouth. If you're indicating a bit of anxiety, a teensy pouf of soothing lavender could automatically be included in your inhalation. Maybe if the gingivitis germs reach a certain level, your e-cig will thoughtfully squirt antiseptic mouthwash into your oral cavity. Or maybe the vapor itself should provide a steady stream of nutrients, antimicrobial agents, cognitive enhancers and "mood brighteners." Naturally, the e-cig could provide you with regular audio updates of breaking celebrity news and extreme weather warnings. At rock concerts, they could be held aloft, as cigarette lighters have been for decades, only these would project lovely shafts of light in all the colors of the rainbow. Maybe the vapor will soon be upgraded to include sparkles -- miniature fireworks displays -- for the exhibitionist types to blow around annoyingly.
I hope to be the first to introduce limited-edition celebrity flavors, before it occurs to Beyonce and Justin to start hogging the market. I am obviously not the celebrity in whose name and aesthetic these enticements would be created: It is Elderly Girl who is the beloved planetary icon in the family. I envision something like a lime-freesia blend for the dainty people and a challenging hit of eucalyptus-black pepper for the tough babes and dudes among us. Elderly Girl thinks this whole thing is pathetic, but I need to keep her in the public eye. We both live quite luxuriously off of her endorsement deals.
In spite of her disdain, I can imagine a scenario in which e-cigarettes could have a positive global impact.
Remember the 1971 ad campaign (of course not...you weren't even born!):