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I’ve picked up a new — well, I’m not sure vice is the right word (and you’ll read why through this post) — but a new affectation. Years ago I was a smoker, mostly cigarettes but I also thoroughly enjoyed smoking a pipe. I started smoking in high school (probably around 2006) and I quit smoking in 2007 for various reasons, mostly health-related, although money was an issue too. Like most ex-smokers, I was never entirely free of the cravings, especially with my morning coffee, after a good meal, or when I was stressed out.

I always thought that was weird, actually. The physical addiction to nicotine was long gone (I’ve heard it takes 8-12 weeks to purge your system of it entirely, so surely six years was sufficient) but here I was last November, stressed to the eyeballs about work and xmas and The Wife™’s exams and running the Canton as seneschal and the cat’s vet bills and just generally life, desperately craving a cigarette. And you know what? Even with The Wife™’s violent tobacco allergy (she gets instant migraine headaches from even secondhand smoke) I was tempted to start smoking again. My stress level was that high.

And then a friend of mine pulled out this thing that looked like a small flashlight at an SCA meeting, stuck it in his mouth, and began “smoking”. It was an e-cigarette. We got to talking about it a bit, and then I did some research.

E-cigarettes are safe. They’re filled with “e-juice” (a mix of food-quality propylene glycol, vegetable glycol, flavouring, and if one is so inclined a nicotine solution.) One inhales flavoured water vapour. That’s it. No tar, no carbon monoxide, no arsenic, no ammonia, no acetones or formaldehyde or any of the other carcinogenic shit that you get from cigarettes. They were originally developed as a stop-smoking aid, but have rapidly been adopted, especially by younger people, as an alternative to smoking tobacco. Sure, there’s a lot of scare-tactic stuff from tobacco companies and health advocates that “we don’t have any research about long-term effects” but once again, water vapour.

So I thought “what the hell” and had a talk with The Wife™, and after she looked into it she gave her permission, so I picked up a a disposable, no-nicotine unit (I was not getting re-addicted to nicotine if I could help it) and gave it a try.

And just like that, I was able to “smoke” again.

It turns out that it wasn’t the nicotine I was missing, it was the comforting ritual of having a cigarette. I’d spent more than a decade as a smoker and it was nice to be able to fall back into the habit — the extremely civilized habit, I’ve always thought — of pausing, lighting a cigarette and having a leisurely smoke. And now I was able to do so without poisoning myself or others.

Another element in being able to take the plunge was the opening of an e-cigarette store in Peterborough. Among the many clever things they’ve done with opening a store is having a “tasting bar” and offering zero-nicotine alternatives. The Wife™ and I poked our heads in to see what it was all about (and price a personal vaporizer for me) and found the owner to be friendly and helpful. (The Wife found the smell of the place to be a bit overwhelming, though — a lot of people have been taking advantage of the “tasting bar” and some flavours are sickly-sweet, so it adds up.) I picked up a bottle of 0-nic Hazelnut Coffee e-juice and ordered myself a pipe-styled personal vaporizer online (because I am that kind of person and I really missed my old pipes).

So there it is: I’m a “vaper” now (not a smoker.) I’ve been “vaping” since around Christmastime, and it’s working out nicely. I can have a “smoke” with my morning coffee again, or after a good meal, or even when I need a break. And it’s much healthier than resuming a tobacco habit… which is something that would be a serious issue because of The Wife™’s aforementioned allergy. Through careful trial and error (another reason I like the “tasting bar”) we’ve found that some of the tobacco-flavoured e-juices do give her a twinge, but if we stay away those kinds it doesn’t seem to be an issue. And a surprising number of “tobacco” e-juices are actually chicory which doesn’t cause her to react at all.

Several of my friends — and my brother, a heavy smoker — have gotten interested in e-cigarettes because of my experience, and I’ve been happy to point them in the right direction. If you’re a smoker, look into them. I encouraged my brother to try one of my cigarette-styled vaporizers while he was visiting this past weekend, and he was amazed at how it filled the gap (he still smoked his cigarettes outdoors, since he does suffer nicotine cravings) and expressed his hope that getting his own personal vaporizer would assist him in finally quitting. The original intention of e-cigs was, after all, to serve as a smoking-cessation aid.

But I would be very surprised if a lot of people quit e-cigarettes once they start them. Aside from the expense (which is considerably less than tobacco, even with the startup hardware costs) there’s just not much reason to quit. There are no health repercussions (especially if you go the no-nicotine route) and it’s definitely enjoyable. It doesn’t even contribute to shortness of breath during physical activity, which is something I was worried about: Back when I was a smoker, I noticed that cigarettes effected my wind while I was doing SCA armoured combat, but I don’t have the same problem with vaping.

My next project is going to be mixing my own e-juices with different flavourings, just to see how that works out. Pre-mixed e-juices are popular, but I’ve never seen one which tries to emulate kretek, which were one of my guiltiest of guilty pleasures back in the day (they turn the inside of your nose black, which can’t be good for you) so I’ve ordered coffee and clove flavourings, and I’m looking forward to starting experimenting.

Edit 19 Feb:
Just a quick edit to include a link to a good source for Canada-specific legal and health information regarding e-cigarettes. There is unfortunately an enormous amount of misinformation about these devices being put forward by opponents of e-cigarettes, as today’s editorial in our local paper shows.