Experiencing E-Cigs, Part 1: The Starter Pack

It has been established beyond all doubt that smoking tobacco is, to put it mildly, not great for your health. I’ve known that since I was in elementary school, where I penned a quite-awful “editorial” asking why tobacco wasn’t made illegal, since it was so obviously bad for you. Times have changed since then, and I went from kid to teenager who smoked some cigarettes, and from there to a college student who would partake occasionally in a few smokes.

When I started dating my now-wife, in 2007, she got me to quit my occasional streak of bumming a few smokes off friends while we were all drinking. Since then, I’ve had precisely one smoke, during a rather stressful event I was running in 2008, and for the most part I don’t miss it. I enjoyed having a cigarette here and there, but I also noticed the aftereffects on my teeth and my lungs (kicking up my mild asthma).

As someone who has training first in medical ethics, and then in public health, tobacco has naturally been a big part of my professional work. After all, tobacco is (rightfully) identified as one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States, and tobacco cessation is one of the best things you can do for your health. That’s why the introduction of “electronic cigarettes”, or e-cigs, into the American market has always piqued my interest.

E-cigs, or “vapes” as they are sometimes called, work by attaching a small container of liquid containing a mixture of propylene glycol, nicotine, and flavoring to a larger battery with a heating element. When the user inhales on the e-cig, the mixture passes over a heating element that vaporizes it into a mist. Proponents of e-cigs have made all sorts of claims about their safety and health risks, and academic research is just now starting to catch up with them, but basically, their points boil down to a few key items.

1) Because there isn’t any combustion like with a traditional cigarette, e-cigs are a safer alternative to smoking regular tobacco.

2) E-cigs can be used as an aid to help people stop using tobacco, because the nicotine quantity can be tapered off while the familiar ritual can remain.

The jury is out on both of these claims, in my mind, but they aren’t unreasonable claims to make. I browsed some of the materials that are posted by the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association (http://www.tveca.com/), which seems to be a trade group advocating for the e-cig industry. Obviously, they’re advancing an agenda, so I would take what they say (well, what anyone says) with a grain of salt. Still, the results of the chemical analyses that they’ve done would lead me to believe that an e-cig is safer than a traditional cigarette (which isn’t the same as it being safe, naturally).

When e-cigs first came onto the American market a few years ago, policymakers and health care advocates didn’t really know how to react. As they were entirely manufactured overseas and were not subject to any quality requirements or regulation, many people (quite reasonably) voiced concerns about the safety of e-cigs. The FDA attempted to regulate (actually, ban) e-cigs under its authority granted by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, but e-cig manufacturers successfully argued that their products should be regulated under the Tobacco Act instead, which appears to be their legal status today.

So, why all this background? Well, a few weeks ago I saw an unusual Groupon for a “Starter Kit” from Premium Vapes, a Virginia-based e-cig manufacturer (http://www.premiumecigarette.com/). I’ve been fascinated by e-cigs since they first arrived to the U.S. market; they’re the perfect mixture of techie and public health to catch my interest, after all! I decided to splurge ($25.00) for this starter kit to find out what the buzz is all about myself. I bought the Groupon and went on my way.

I’ve discovered that if you spend any time searching the net for e-cigs, you end up in an endless loop of SEO link factories, full of marketing information. I didn’t see a lot of discussion about e-cigs from actual people (or at least, from sites that I could assume were actual people and not spambots). So I decided that I would document my experiences for the world and put them on the web!

So it’s clear, I’m not being paid by anyone for this, and I don’t have any tie to any company or business. The views here are my own and come from my generally ornery, civil libertarian self. So, I’m not out to sell you on using e-cigs, or to tell you that they are safe. I’m not qualified to make any of those judgments, and besides, you shouldn’t listen to strange people on the Internet. (Don’t you know this thing is kind of sketchy?) What I’m doing is trying to show what my experience is; I’m not trying to advocate that anyone do anything.

The package arrived about a week ago, but so did a nasty headcold, which is probably the world’s way of telling me that this is a terrible decision (along with my wife’s ire). So, I’m just getting into this now. Check out the pictures here.

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