I proposed, and the next week we eloped, charging forward as man and wife. After 14 months of courtship, I thought I knew everything about her. But one evening my lovely bride disclosed that during a rebellious moment while I was away, she’d started “puffing vapor” to blow off some steam.
I saw her pull out the cigar-sized device and, to my chagrin, watched as she pushed a button, inhaled deeply, and exhaled a light, vaporized smoke that smelled like peach cobbler and dissipated quickly, leaving zero residue. The smoking gun, so to speak.
Although the sight was jarring, I couldn’t help but enjoy the aroma. Curiosity stoked, my memory recalled over the last few weeks seeing several people carrying similar vapor devices, exhaling on the fly, on patios, at the pool, on the streets. No ashes, no butts, no irritating lingering secondhand smoke—just clean vapor.
I wanted to try it. But I had to pause before taking such a step. No virgin to smoking, I knew the drill. Over the past seven years, I have been rewiring my brain, refraining from smoking marijuana and the intermittent tobacco cigarette and getting into better physical shape. My renewed passion for health and fitness has done wonders for both body and soul—and now this? Would it be a violation of my commitment to health? Would my healthy progress be undermined by a sweet smell and nicotine buzz disguised as a smoking-cessation strategy?
Looking into my bride’s eyes, I pushed the button that heated the “vapor juice” and inhaled deeply. I felt the familiar weight of the smoke pass through my esophagus and into my lungs, and I breathed out, sighing. I tasted a sweetness on the lips, smelled the pleasant vapor release, and felt a minor rush to the brain.
Meet the electronic cigarette, or e-cig, which delivers various flavors through an electric device that turns an e-liquid—containing varying amounts of nicotine and far fewer carcinogens than tobacco cigarettes—into a tasty vapor. The e-liquid, or vapor juice, comes in flavors like peach chill, blueberry, strawberry, even chocolate cake.
In the U.S., puffing vapor is catching fire. Sales are at the billion-dollar mark, with nearly 4 million Americans puffing on their choice of 250 vapor brands.
But is vapor a healthy strategy to quit smoking or a cleverly disguised product that hooks people on an addictive nicotine-delivery device?
Probably a little of both.
The jury is still out regarding the benefits and risks of inhaling vapor. Long-term effects have yet to be studied, but initial research suggests that it’s safer than smoking tobacco. For example, the Food and Drug Administration found nine contaminants in the vapor, compared with more than 11,000 in cigarettes.
However, we know that nicotine puts your health at risk, possibly leading to high blood pressure and heart rate, and may cause nausea and diarrhea. (Nicotine is not the main component of cigarettes that causes cancer. Tobacco smoke is.) We also know that nicotine can be addictive, whether inhaled as vapor or tobacco smoke.
Cigarette smokers trying to quit can taper off nicotine using e-cigs because the e-liquid can be purchased with or without nicotine and in different concentrations and still provides the oral fixation they crave. E-cigs may be just as effective in quitting smoking as nicotine patches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And e-cigs cost less than regular cigarettes. Starter kits range between $30 and $100 and cost about $600 per year in e-liquid. Purchasing one pack of cigarettes a day costs about $2,000 per year.
Some nicotine is exhaled in the vapor, so it’s possible that secondhand smoke poses a risk to others. But there’s no evidence on how harmful secondhand vapor is.
Inhaling the vapor does, however, cause an instant increase in airway resistance in the lungs, according to one study conducted at the University of Athens. So, although e-cigs are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, they still damage the respiratory process.
I’ve noticed a slight difference in my lungs during exercise and a little light-headedness, which can’t be great for me, and I admit that my wife and I are too embarrassed to tell our friends and family that we’re enjoying this new habit. But I don’t feel addicted to smoking the vapor either. I personally wish tobacco smokers would switch.
And who knows? Maybe my wife and I will quit next week and find other ways to blow off steam.