After all - Happy E-Smoking

Vitali 'Two Stents' Vitaliev on a pioneering electronic device which has saved his life.

I am writing this column as a non-smoker, having just said goodbye to 40 years of obsessive puffing, no-less-obsessive, albeit involuntary, coughing, wheezing and spitting - as well as palpitations, cold sweat and panic attacks at the mere thought that I might have left my cigarette-rolling kit at home.

A reluctant addict, well aware of the fact that smoking had played a huge role in the premature deaths of my father and grandfather, I had tried everything throughout the years: acupuncture, patches, hypnosis, you name it - nothing helped. Sitting in a chair during an acupuncture session with dozens of needles stuck in my uncomplaining ear - which made it resemble a small, yet aggressive, porcupine crawling up my head, I couldn't wait for the torture to end so I could light up in peace…

It was the sight of my own clogged arteries on a TV monitor during an angioplasty at a London hospital last year that provided one totally irrefutable argument in favour of giving up smoking for good. In fact, there were two solid cast-iron 'arguments': two stents implanted in my long-suffering nicotine-soaked arteries to keep them open.

My partner now calls me 'Two Stents' - in the style of a 1930s Chicago mobster. Even with the stents, however, giving up smoking was easier said than done…

Web salvation

Allow me to introduce you to the e-cigarette. This battery-powered gizmo sounds like a ridiculous party gag, but it supplies users with a serious portion of vaporised nicotine sufficient to sate even the most demanding of smokers.

Der Spiegel magazine suggested calling the process 'Smoking 2.0'. But, because nothing is actually burning in e-cigarette and there's no real 'smoke' involved, 'E-smoking' would be a much better term to describe it.

E-smoking sidesteps the 4,000-plus chemicals found in standard cigarette smoke that plume into one's lungs from the tobacco and tar. This allows e-cigarette users to avoid the 50 or so cancer-causing components of normal cigarettes.

E-cigarettes work like this: nicotine is dissolved in propylene glycol, and the combination is stored in a cartridge that is designed to look like a traditional orange cigarette filter. The nicotine cartridge screws onto the main body of the e-cigarette, which contains a rechargeable battery that powers an electrical circuit. When the smoker inhales, a sensor in the circuit is activated. This causes a red LED at the tip to turn on.

More importantly, the nicotine and propylene glycol are heated up so that they vaporise and get sucked into the smoker's lungs.

Propylene glycol, found in shampoo, food colouring and onstage theater smoke, is used as a solvent because plain water vapour is invisible. Vaporised propylene glycol looks like smoke, adding to the pseudo-smoking experience without causing a stinky smell (or any smell at all, for that matter).

The first electronic cigarette, called Ruyan, was invented in China in 2004 by the Hong Kong-based Golden Dragon Group. Now, dozens of companies sell similarly designed electronic cigarettes, cigars
and pipes online.

Even though e-cigarettes aren't dumping tobacco carcinogens into your lungs, nicotine itself is not innocuous. It speeds across the blood-brain barrier in just a few seconds, is highly addictive, can raise blood pressure, and hurts developing foetuses.

But there's a way around it.

Yummy dummy

Sitting at my desk, I drag on my 'electronic cigarette'. My puffing raises no durable objections (although maybe the odd eyebrow) in our open-plan office, for e-cigarette is entirely legal to be consumed anywhere, even on board a plane. 

The tip of it lights up (electronically) as I inhale. I can even belch out rings of totally harmless 'smoke', or rather vapour, condensed by the atomiser inside the battery - literally - out of thin office air.

Yet, with the help of a Portsmouth-based company called Victory Catering Supplies Ltd., I took my non-smoking smoking one huge step further: there's no nicotine in my e-cigarette and there hasn't been for over five months now, so, in actual fact, it is just a dummy. Or, as Americans say, a pacifier, to pacify an ex-chain-smoker like myself and to dupe his brain into believing that he continues to imbibe the much-coveted poison together with all the yummy and genuinely carcinogenic by-products of burning.

I know I can chuck out this 'dummy' any time without palpitations and other nasty withdrawal symptoms because, in reality, I have now been a non-smoker for six months - from the moment I discovered e-cigarettes.

It was a gradual process. I started with the strongest (strength nine) nicotine cartridges, then - in the course of several weeks and without much effort - slid down to seven, five, two and then zero. 

The e-cigarette market is growing by the day. Also, they are much cheaper than 'normal' cigarettes or cigars: a starter kit (with two batteries and a charger) costs about £20 and each cartridge, which lasts for at least a day, is only a bit over one pound!

Living proof of the fact that e-cigarettes work, I had nevertheless been waiting for the first conclusive tests before writing this column.

The tests have now taken place. The laboratory services of the Lancashire-based Blackburn MicroTech Solutions Ltd (www.lpdlabservices.co.uk [new window]) have issued a detailed 'analysis of components' of e-cigarettes 'smoking liquid'. Their conclusion is that e-cigarette "offers a much safer alternative to the traditional cigarette". And, without the nicotine, the only health 'damage' can stem from propylene glycol, a "suspected respiratory irritant" which can be replaced with harmless glycerol.

It is with an easy (and swiftly recovering) heart that I can now recommend e-cigarette to everyone who wants either to stop smoking completely or to switch over to its much healthier (and much more socially acceptable) alternative.

I don't know whether this revolutionary Chinese invention will ever be awarded a Nobel Prize in… I'm not sure what discipline - medicine, chemistry, or engineering, perhaps? - which I think it deserves, but one thing is certain: e-cigarette is the very last cigarette in my life; the life it has definitely helped to save.

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