Any of you who have known me over the past year or so probably know that I am an ex-smoker who has upgraded his nicotine habit to the electronic cigarette. My wife and I have been smoking e-cigs exclusively since February of 2012, and I can tell you it has made a significant improvement on our quality of life.
E-cigs use some very simple technology to get around the many factors of nicotine use that are bad for the human body. Traditional cigarettes burn tobacco, and every byproduct of the chemical process of burning ends up in your lungs and the air around you. Most of those byproducts are bad, even in all-natural cigarettes. It's a pretty steep price to pay for your nicotine.
E-cigs use an electrical charge running through a cluster of small fibers to vaporize liquid nicotine. The fibers "wick" (like a candle wick) the liquid nicotine into their structure, where a small electric current causes the nicotine to vaporize. When you draw on the e-cig, air and propylene glycol are pulled past the heating element. The sudden heating causes the the propylene glycol to flash, or rapidly expand. The moisture in the air being drawn through with the propylene glycol instantly clings to it, making it both visible and cooler. So the exhaled result is a mixture of trace amounts of nicotine, propylene glycol and water vapor that mimics the behavior of cigarette smoke, giving the smoker a pleasant feel like smoking a real cigarette.
Propylene glycol may sound like a big scary chemical, but check out the link in the previous paragraph. Its virtually impossible for humans to consume it in amounts that would cause perceptible damage to your health. It's an organic compound, and is considered Generally Recognized As Safe by the FDA, and it's present in a lot of the foods you eat and medicine you take.
Water vapor is obviously harmless, so what about the other exhaled compound, nicotine? Well, there's no arguing that nicotine is bad for you. However, it is not itself a carcinogen, and the simple truth is that administered in the absence of cigarette smoke, it's primary detrimental effect is it's habit-forming stimulant response. Lucky for second-hand e-cig smokers, all signs point to the nicotine content of exhaled vapor being extremely low compared to traditional cigarettes; far below the threshold that could trigger an addictive response, or even have a significant health impact. I won't argue that the exhaled vapor is completely harmless, but I will argue that it is nearly harmless and certainly less harmful than the normal air in a city like, oh, Los Angeles for example.
The science on all this is still in it's early stages, I'll admit. But so far, it's hard to argue that e-cigs are worse - or even half as bad for you and those around you - as traditional cigarettes. They are not harmless, but they're demonstrably less harmful than almost anything else we let into our air. the smoke coming off your charcoal grill is worse.
Furthermore, I can tell you from personal experience (and I'm not alone here) that switching to e-cigs has made a noticeable improvement on my health. I don't stink of smoke anymore, I can breathe deeply without coughing, I no longer hack up phlegm every morning and I don't get dizzy climbing a staircase. I feel better, I look better, and my doctor says I am healthier.
And yet... California is currently voting on a bill that would treat e-cigs as if they were just as bad as traditional cigarettes just because we don't know exactly how much healthier they are. The argument is not that they are as bad as cigarettes, it's just that we don't know precisely how much healthier they are.
Now, I'm all in favor of the FDA taking a closer look at the e-cig manufacturing process. Since we've been using them, my wife and I have had a number of "dud" cartridges that simply don't function. The batteries we use all draw differently than one another, and some break down within a few uses. Manufacturing consistency would be a good thing, and if I have to pay a little more to get it, I'd say it's worth it.
But if new laws cause the price of e-cigs to rise to or above the level of cigarettes (and there's a very real possibility of that happening), it'd be a horrible thing for everyone. I'm still addicted to nicotine, although I have stepped down my dosage by half over the last year, and am about to cut it in half again in a month or so (as soon as I'm out of my current cartridges). If e-cigs are more expensive than cigarettes... I'm gonna have to fight pretty hard not to switch back. I don't want to switch back. I'm trying to quit, eventually. E-cigs come in a nicotine-free variety that I would eventually like to step down to. At that point the e-cig is essentially a toy, it's completely harmless. I'm using e-cigs as a cessation device (slowly, but surely), and one of the major MAJOR benefits is that they are far cheaper than cigarettes. About half the cost per year for my wife and I, and we smoke a lot of e-cig.
I like this method of quitting because it allows me to keep everything I like about smoking, while slowly phasing out the things which are bad for me. Other quitting methods just don't deliver when it comes to the more psychological aspects of smoking. I didn't really want to quit smoking. I just knew I had to, or else. I enjoy having something to punctuate my day, I like writing with something in my hand (as I am right now). I smoke like a chimney when I write. As Ayn Rand put it (and I'm paraphrasing) "When a man is thinking, there is a spot of fire in his mind. It is fitting that there should be a spot of fire in his hand as well." E-cigs let me keep the spot of fire, while disposing with the health risks. I've chewed the gum. It's disgusting and unsatisfying. I've used inhalers. The lack of visible vapor totally breaks the illusion that I'm still smoking. I've never used the patch, but I know I'd miss the physical activity associated with smoking. I'm finding, as I step my nicotine dosage down, that I don't miss the nicotine at all once I'm down to the next level.
If California passes this law, much of this could be taken away from me.
If any of you read my article on GMO foods, you may have noticed the comment I got from a reader and the subsequent argument I had with him. My feelings on GMO foods are similar to my feelings on e-cigs. In both cases there are some demonstrable, real-life positive impacts, and the only reason certain parties are against them is because we "don't know enough." As I said to the gentleman who commented on that article, I refuse to fear the unknown. I refuse to accept that the measurable positive impact on my life from using e-cigs is but a ruse, and that I am really making a bad health choice, and my choices should be prohibited by law. I'm generally against anything that inhibits individual freedom, and SB 648 could take away, or at least grievously tax my ability to make what I perceive as a monumentally beneficial health choice. It would remove the incentive to switch for those who are contemplating it, and it would create an incentive for current e-cig users to switch back to cigarettes. That's bad, any way you slice it, no matter what we do or don't know about e-cigs.
The California government takes its role in the health of it's citizens too far. They have a precedent of outlawing anything they're uncomfortable with, without regard to the behavioral incentives they create in the process. If this bill passes, it could set an example the whole country could follow. So help me on my journey to quit nicotine and vote NO! on SB 648!!!!!
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