Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The E-Cigarette Seduction: Are We Blowing It?

Oxford English dictionary has named "vape" the "word of the year for 2014."
E-cigarettes are fun and flirty, hip and tasty! They're diabolical!

    (8/27/13) After having smoked since high school, I finally gave it up 10 years ago. I broke the habit. I was free. I was sad that I had to give up this comfort, but I was gratified that I had moved on.
    Enter e-cigarettes. The moment I first saw someone on TV exhaling a cloud of vapor, a little devil in my brain (or maybe it was an angel who felt deprived of simple pleasures) cried out, "Oh boy!"
    Was it really possible that I could smoke again? I still missed it. Not inhaling actual smoke, which I now found disgusting. But here was this substitute that would allow me once again to enjoy the languid pleasure of taking in and releasing a fragrant and tasty breeze. Smoking is so relaxing! I felt uneasy but excited.
    I bought a starter kit of a simple, generic style (Fin). They'd sneaked some vanilla into the menthol, which seemed kind of presumptuous. But when I fired up that first cartridge and took a deep draw, and blew it out my lips and nostrils, I was immediately in a billowy Heaven. It was the most enjoyable smoke of my life.
Buy a special e-cig for every outfit and mood, in yummy lollipop flavors!
     Within a few days, I was overdoing it. Within two or three weeks, I was hooked. Again. 
    Last year, e-cigarette sales in the U.S. exceeded $300 million. This year, they will be about $1.7 billion, Bloomberg reports. Within four years, sales are projected to reach $10 billion. That's plain scary.
    The big tobacco companies -- Reynolds, Altria and Lorillard -- have already moved forcefully into the e-cig market, each with its own special branding and style. Analysts predict e-cigarette consumption could surpass traditional cigarettes within the next decade, and the Big Three tobacco companies have at least three big advantages in dominating the market, according to the Nov. 19, 2013 issue of the Wall Street Journal: extensive distribution networks, existing customer relationships numbering in the millions, and deep pockets..
    My plan had been to use the e-cigarette simply as an after-dinner treat. I was determined not to become an actual smoker again -- this was just going to be "dessert." Pretty soon, I was using it as a reward for sitting at my computer, being productive with my blog. Throughout the day, I began having a vague sensation, which I came to realize was pleasant anticipation. What I have missed the most about smoking is that feeling of anticipation: Having something to look forward to. Smoking itself wasn't all that great. But e-cigarettes are great. I love them! They are mouth-wateringly scrumptious!
    I am puffing away as I write this. My strategy is that when this post is finished, and I hit the "publish" button, I will be ready to throw away all the paraphernalia and put a stop to this madness. I hope I can drag the writing process out long enough to try the caramel, chocolate and turkish java before I say "good riddance" to this whole freaky phenomenon.
    Or will I be more in its grips than ever?

No wonder it's called 'vaping' -- it's melodramatically vaporous! photo by LA Times
UPDATE: Oh my heck -- as the Mormons say -- I forgot to quit when I published this post almost two weeks ago. Totally forgot! I have been loving these babies, and I have been "such a good girl, honey" -- to quote the ravishing songstress Shakira -- in so many ways:
"Lamps are hanging from the ceiling
Like a lady tied to her manners
I'm tied up to this feeling"
   That dear girl really gets me: I'm tied up to this feeling of smoking, from which I had been so successfully untied. Wouldn't Halloween be a good time to quit?)

(UPDATE PART DEUX: Oh my stars -- as Mitt Romney would say -- Halloween is getting so hauntingly close! I'm not terribly obsessed with the e-cigs, so maybe I can keep going a while longer? I am having bizarre GI problems, but that's probably just a tropical parasite. My lungs hurt, but so does everything else, so why blame smoking? Do you think Thanksgiving is a good time to end the e-cig indulgence? Or is New Year's better?)

(Oct. 22: I just bought a whole bunch more cartridges just in case I don't quit for a while, even though I probably will. It's nerve-wracking to imagine running out. Not that there's anything addictive going on. Just, you know, an innocent pleasure that is becoming my Best Friend.)

(Feb. 11: shit, I just realized New Year's Day happened a while ago. Too late for a resolution, right? And Valentine's Day isn't a good time to quit. It's the perfect time to smoke! And maybe I don't need to quit. I'm studying the health impacts, and for the first time in my life, I really feel handicapped by my scientific illiteracy. I'm trying not to let all those chemicals and heavy metals I'm reading about scare me away.)

(March 26: This is kind of ironic. At the same time that vaping is becoming an habitual behavior for me, I'm losing interest. I think so, anyway. It's starting to feel futile. The flavors are all blending into one. I'm feeling silly doing it. And, as a journalist, I'd never intended to take on the "e-cigarette beat"! Jesus! I have more important things (and more outrageous things ) that I'd rather be writing about. Scandals to uncover. Anguished yet whimsical essays to send to the New York Times.  I need to wean myself off of this whole crazy business.


    "I ain't no psychiatrist, I ain't no doctor with degrees
It don't take too much high IQ's to see what you're doing to me."

     What they're doing to us is the essence of capitalism: They're creating a massive, enthusiastic market for a product that people will feel compelled to purchase regularly, forever.

Keep it going, man! Every luscious flavor is a whole new world!
    Through their savvy advertising, and promotional stunts in major cities and velvet-rope clubs, they are creating an excitement and urgency that almost feels like a mass movement. The explosion in the color and diversity of the product ignites a kind of manic energy. It's dazzling. It's party time in Consumerland. You want to try them all.
     "It don't take too much high IQ's" to see what they're doing to us. Am I overestimating the appeal of smoking? Can you overestimate the appeal of candy and ice cream? E-cigs are a yummy form of candy and ice cream that make you very fly, very much "da bomb," totally "mod," without making you fat. When was the last time someone offered you such a good deal?
    Nobody knows how many of those who are buying e-cigarettes never have and never would have used tobacco. I bet it's a lot. And kids of any age can buy them online just by hitting the button that says, "I am 18 or over."
Add some fall flavoring to your vaporous autumn!
     According to a Sept. 5, 2013 article in USA Today, the use of e-cigs among teens doubled from 2011 to 2012, even as tobacco use continued to decline.
    "The increased use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling," CDC Director Tom Frieden said in announcing the findings. "Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine." 
    I was shocked to learn that in two counties in Utah -- a state that has the lowest smoking rate in the country -- the 30-day use for students in 10th and 12th grades has gone up by 500 percent in the past two years, according to an Oct. 22,2013 story in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.

    So, dear children, are you feeling nerdy, or are you leaning toward psychedelic? Your wish is their command:

    E-cigs represent a new craze, which might achieve the status of  a staple, like sunglasses, jeans and tattoos. This joyous consumer scramble could easily lead to another era, in which e-smoking -- known as "vaping" -- could become as ubiquitous as smoking tobacco was during its heyday. This worries me on a lot of levels.
    E-cigarettes are dangerously fabulous. They're fun and adorable. They're gorgeous. It feels good to hold them. It is exquisite to blow them. They're selling out everywhere. They're on back order, in stores and online -- even the starter kits, which generally cost $80 to $100 dollars. They're being "scalped," like tickets to a Springsteen concert. People are on "standby"! Groovy "vaping" outlets are popping up everywhere, and e-cigs are also widely available at major retail and convenience stores. Some people have already gotten so attached to their tasty pacifiers that after-hours "emergency pickup" is offered:

VapeNY is a quaint boutique offering after-hours "emergency pickup."

So many choices, it's buying nail polish -- agonizing!
A Baskin-Robbins atmosphere with ice creamy flavors. Photo NYT
Flowers and ribbons and smokes, oh my!
    Now, according to an Oct. 25, 2013, Wall Street Journal article, "self-described 'reformed party girl' Talia Eisenberg has launched what she calls New York City's first electronic-cigarette cafe, trying to rebuild her image while offering tobacco smokers a tool—and a place—to quit." The Henley Vaporium is the NoLiTa neighborhood of Manhattan. Eisenberg also "manufactures and markets the faux smokes as a hip and health-conscious tobacco alternative," offering 80 oh-so-tasty flavors.

      Talia's hip new hangout.     by Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal
   The latest big thing at Henley is the art of "pimping your vape" -- a sort of communal hacking project in which screwdrivers, wires and small metal tubes are used to re-engineer and customize "mods." By hacking these devices, they're able to produce stronger flavors, and new flavors, and — more importantly — create more impressive vapor clouds.

    These clever devices are, as one analyst phrased it in Bloomberg Businessweek, "a classic disruptive technology." Disruptive is a strong word. I think it's accurate. I think this product will be disruptive in a number of ways. Maybe it will be all right. I rather doubt it.
   E-cigarettes are being rolled out with great fanfare and frisson, like the annual couture collections, and boutiques are springing up, where you can order a "custom blend" of flavors and tweak the amount of nicotine (from zero mg. to 24mg at my friendly neighborhood vape shop). This is a mass-market commodity (and a potent drug) that's being sold like a niche item, a gourmet delicacy, with hundreds of new flavors being introduced each month.


  I didn't want anything "cute" or quirky. I bought the Fin brand, which looks like a regular cigarette. The battery portion heats the flavored nicotine liquid, and when you take a draw, the heat, vapor and taste are remarkably pleasant.

    In a world of neon miniskirts and glittery lip gloss, hot nightspots and artsy coffee houses, trendy beverages and epidemic faddism, e-cigarettes are giddily alluring. Unlike merlot or shoulder pads, they are not likely to be a passing fancy, unless science and governments get their acts together and enact reasonable regulations.The jury is still out on the health impacts of e-cigarettes, and it is shocking how little effort has been made to assess their safety.
    UPDATE: On September 23, 2013, 40 state attorneys general petitioned the FDA to study the ingredients, marketing and sale to minors of  e-cigarettes. The FDA shouldn't have needed this outpouring of pressure to do its job (,0,4358504.story).
    The FDA has been informally "considering" a ban on online sales of e-cigarettes to cut down on sales to minors, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, and discussing whether to curtail advertising. A roster of proposed rules was expected in October, but no one who knows how D.C. operates thinks that's going to happen. (it didn't)
    UPDATE: On April 23, 2014, the FDA announces that it "will propose" guidelines, but they are weak and limited. It has taken the agency four years since Congress passed a major tobacco-control law in 2009 to get to this stage, and federal officials and advocates say it will take at least another year for the rules to take effect — and possibly significantly longer if affected companies sue to block them.  Even then, companies will have years to comply. (
    “We can’t allow e-cigarettes to establish themselves the way cigarettes did and, five years from now when all the scientific questions are answered, try to stuff the genie back in the bottle,” said Dr. Stanton Glantz, of the Center for Tobacco Control and Education at UCSF.  But that is exactly what is happening, rapidly and rapturously, all around us. The genie is out, and he's one tasty dude.
    Dr. Glantz expressed a disturbing opinion in a September Time magazine article. E-cigarette vapor emits harmful fine particles in the air, he said.
    That's news to me, and very upsetting news. “If you look at absolute levels of risk [of electronic cigarettes], they are pretty bad, because a cigarette is just ridiculously toxic and ridiculously polluting,” he said. “If you go into a bar or casino where there is a lot of smoking, the only way to get the air that polluted outdoors is to be downwind from a large forest fire. If you say an electronic cigarette is only 10 percent to 20 percent less polluting than a massive forest fire, that’s not so good.”
Is it possible to take this whole "vapor" indulgence too far?  Photo by Katie Orlinsky, NYT.
    However, I checked the research paper on which he bases this statement, and it seems to contradict his conclusion (

    "Results: The study showed that e-cigarettes are a source of secondhand exposure to nicotine but not to combustion toxicants. 

    Conclusions: Using an e-cigarette in indoor environments may involuntarily expose nonusers to nicotine but not to toxic tobacco-specific combustion products."
     Consumer Reports endorsed this conclusion in a December 18 overview of this study and a similar one in Poland: "They found that the e-cigarette vapor contained nicotine but not the particle pollutants and other, toxic compounds found in tobacco smoke, which are byproducts of combustion."

    I have written to the chief author of the Oxford Journal  paper about whether the smoker himself inhales any particulates, and I will convey his response when I receive it.
    (HERE IT IS, Dec. 19, 2013: Maciej L. Goniewicz, PhD, says secondhand exposure is not a problem, due to the rapid dispersal and dissolution of the vapors. HOWEVER, HE ADDS A TROUBLING INSIGHT:

"Little is know about the chemical composition of particulates from e-cigarettes. Is it just droplets of PG/VG (propylene glycol/vegetable glycerine)? Or it may contain some traces of toxic substances. We need to do more research to understand the nature of these particles."
    Of course, I remain concerned. I just read another paper, published by PLOS One in March, and it also raises questions about safety. The researchers concluded:

"The aerosol (in e-cigarettes) contained particles >1 ┬Ám comprised of tin, silver, iron, nickel, aluminum, and silicate and nanoparticles (<100 nm) of tin, chromium and nickel. The concentrations of nine of eleven elements in EC aerosol were higher than or equal to the corresponding concentrations in conventional cigarette smoke. Many of the elements identified in EC aerosol are known to cause respiratory distress and disease.

AND NOW, a new study finds that e-cigs produce about 1/7 the fine particulate matter of tobacco cigarettes. To me, even that is disturbing.

    Research at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, published in 2012 in the journal Tobacco Control, found that the level of some toxic substances in 12 e-cigarette brands was significantly lower than in cigarette smoke. However, scientists have subsequently pointed out that the technology is moving so quickly that many of the products tested are outdated.

And anyway, is "significantly lower" low enough for those of us who thought it was safe to vape?  

    I hope these people are mistaken! Please: Isn't that possible?? There do seem to be many experts who deny these scary conclsions. But I'm sure the researchers didn't just make them up! We need to have these various investigations reconciled. 

UPDATE, Jan. 12, 2014: The Weill Cornell Medical College is recruiting volunteers for a study of e-cigs and their effects on the lung. Their confidential premise is that e-cigarettes damage the cilia in the lungs and alter the tissue chemistry.

ArtSmoke hired a famous graffiti artist to make its cigs more "chic."
     In early October, the European Parliament scrapped proposals by health officials that electronic cigarettes be tightly regulated as medical devices," setting the stage for a debate in the United States over the extent of regulation," according to the New York Times.
     But "while exempting e-cigarettes from an onerous and potentially costly certification process required for drugs, an amendment to the Tobacco Products Directive approved by parliamentarians imposes tight restrictions on advertising and sponsorship. In these areas, e-cigarettes face the same restraints as regular cigarettes, including the ban on sales to young people, the Times added. 
     At the end of October, 2013, the UK body that oversees the regulation of medicines, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, said e-cigarettes currently available do not meet appropriate standards of ‘safety, quality and efficacy’ and it plans to regulate them as medicinal products by 2016.

    The American Lung Association has urged the FDA to halt the sale and distribution of all e-cigarettes unless the products have been reviewed and approved for sale
    "E-cigarettes are a regulatory wild west," according to an Oct. 22, 2013 broadcast:
    UPDATE: The Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Assn., an industry group, is lobbying to avoid Food and Drug Administration regulation under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, according to an Oct. 24, 2013, article in the Los Angeles Times. "This is a critical time for ... the e-cig industry at large," said Cynthia Cabrera, the trade group's executive director. Critical indeed! They're taking over the world, and they don't want public health concerns to get in their way! The group plans a "fly-in" during the first week in November to put pressure on lawmakers.
    But at a gathering of the nation’s leading cancer specialists outside Washington in late October,  a panel on e-cigarette smoking, or “vaping” as it is often called, cast a skeptical eye on the intense regulatory interest in the e-cigarette phenomenon, according to the Washington Times
    “One of the problems and challenges with the regulation will be how to not overregulate the product,” said Maciej Goniewicz, assistant professor of oncology at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. “We want the regulation to provide safer, better products, and this is a huge challenge.”
    Indeed, scientists say that if all smokers in the world switched from cigarettes to electronic cigarettes, it could save millions of lives, according to a Nov. 13, 2013 BBC dispatch.
    And tobacco apologists make some valid points about the benefits of nicotine. It has been demonstrated to improve alertness, energy, concentration and memory. It is being studied for its possible impact on delaying or mitigating Alzheimer's (in patch form, not by smoking it (

A Russian billionaire paid $887 m. for a diamond-encrused e-cig.
     (UPDATE: A new study suggests that e-cigs are not a "gateway drug" that leads to the use of tobacco, which doesn't surprise me. E-cigs are more enjoyable, more attractive, less expensive, and pose fewer health concerns. Theodore Wagener, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, followed 1,300  students with an average age of 19 — and said at a recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, in National Harbor, Maryland that vaping did not “seem as though it really proved to be a gateway to anything” in the course of the research. Only one of the students went on to smoke cigarettes.)

Among participants, 43 students said that e-cigarettes were their first introduction to nicotine products — and only one of those students went on to smoke cigarettes.

Theodore Wagener, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, was part of the research team examining whether e-cig use serves as a gateway drug for young adults.
Wagener and the research team surveyed 1,300 college students with an average age of 19 — and said at a recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, in National Harbor, Maryland that vaping did not “seem as though it really proved to be a gateway to anything” in the course of the research.
Among participants, 43 students said that e-cigarettes were their first introduction to nicotine products — and only one of those students went on to smoke cigarettes.

Theodore Wagener, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, was part of the research team examining whether e-cig use serves as a gateway drug for young adults.
Wagener and the research team surveyed 1,300 college students with an average age of 19 — and said at a recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, in National Harbor, Maryland that vaping did not “seem as though it really proved to be a gateway to anything” in the course of the research.
Among participants, 43 students said that e-cigarettes were their first introduction to nicotine products — and only one of those students went on to smoke cigarettes.

Theodore Wagener, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, was part of the research team examining whether e-cig use serves as a gateway drug for young adults.
Wagener and the research team surveyed 1,300 college students with an average age of 19 — and said at a recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, in National Harbor, Maryland that vaping did not “seem as though it really proved to be a gateway to anything” in the course of the research.
Among participants, 43 students said that e-cigarettes were their first introduction to nicotine products — and only one of those students went on to smoke cigarettes.

Theodore Wagener, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, was part of the research team examining whether e-cig use serves as a gateway drug for young adults.
Wagener and the research team surveyed 1,300 college students with an average age of 19 — and said at a recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, in National Harbor, Maryland that vaping did not “seem as though it really proved to be a gateway to anything” in the course of the research.
Among participants, 43 students said that e-cigarettes were their first introduction to nicotine products — and only one of those students went on to smoke cigarettes.

    Poison control centers are concerned, especially regarding the increasing trend of calls in the past three years and the number of calls related to youth exposure under the age of 5 years old. "I don't think most parents know how deadly nicotine is, especially because the tobacco industry continually compares it to caffeine," one official said.
     On June 12, the U.K. government said e-cigs should be regulated as medicines to ensure quality and safety. France plans to ban e-cigs from public venues; several U.S. cities have already.
    I think we'd better all "party like it's 1999," as Prince would say, before these little joysticks get banned. Maybe they're even worse than tobacco! Do your lungs kind of hurt yet? Mine do.

    The issue of the synthetic flavors and aromas used in these products hasn't been addressed, and it is vitally important to our physical and mental health -- something that's easy to forget as we relax in a cloud of butterscotch and peach ice cream. I have covered the industry that produces these quite amazing chemicals, and these two stories have been among my most-read blog posts: and
    Across the e-cigarette industry, more than 7,000 flavors are now available and, by one estimate, nearly 250 more are being introduced every month, according to a July 16, 2014 article in the New York Times

Luscious juice is on the loose. But what kind of chemicals are used for our inhalatory joy? Nick Oxford / New York Times.
    Our lives in recent decades have become a wonderland of charming scents and tastes. There's "mango-tango" laundry detergent, vanilla orchid body lotion, orange crush lip gloss, lemon dish detergent, and oatmeal-cookie room freshener. These chemicals -- which have not been approved for safety, and many of which are known carcinogens -- are all over our bodies and all over our homes. (Studies have found that the average woman uses hundreds of chemicals on her body every day, and they don't stay on the surface. They certainly won't if we start inhaling them!)
The chemicals are so soothing, and make her smell like Heaven!
    The chemical aroma and fragrance industry has explicitly stated its intention to have its products succeed in changing change our moods and altering our behavior. Fragrance is used in casinos, where it can double the amount of cash poured into slot machines. It's used in pretty much every store, to make our mouths water, or to put us in a "more relaxed mood, with decreased inhibitions and increased receptivity to making purchases," according to the industry's own literature. They are continually conducting complex behavioral research  -- often using fMRIs to peek inside our minds -- that allows them to tweak flavors and fragrances at the molecular level to achieve the ends of their many corporate clients.
    Our sense of smell, as we have known for generations, is wired with extraordinary power into various regions of our brains. Fragrances vividly, immediately, and sometimes subconsciously evoke memories, stir emotions and incite behavior.
Everything we smell goes straight to powerful brain regions.
    In one study after another, they have been shown to affect our dreams, buying habits and interpersonal relations.
    So even as we hungrily try one tasty e-cig flavor after another, let's hold onto our autonomy as much as possible! Don't let them make you stop caring about justice, and all that difficult stuff! Let's not have "vaper" become synonomus with "stoner." OK, dude? Uh oh, did I just say "dude"?
    A major controversy has already developed over whether regulations banning smoking in indoor spaces and public places should apply to e-cigarettes. E-smokers express jubilation at finally being able to "light up" in bars and restaurants, and at the office, once again. But many patrons and colleagues, having become accustomed to a smoke-free environment, object. They don't care whether it's toxic smoke or a vapor that has unknown "secondhand" effects. I respect their concerns and think the indoor bans should be kept in place, at least for the time being. Even so, I have always believed that bars and clubs should be able to permit cigarette smoking or ban it, and I feel the same way about e-cigs. That's where smoking has always been most widespread, and I think that option should be permitted.
    But to me, the larger issue is that these products are rapidly transforming our attitude toward smoking, and are negating the social norms against smoking that took decades, and hundreds of millions of dollars, to put in place.
This was one of the most powerful of the anti-smoking ads.
     Smoking is an addiction, whether it causes lung cancer and heart disease or not. Most people become addicted to the nicotine, of course. E-cigarettes have not been shown to be an effective smoking cessation aid. A few of us -- once referred to as "chippers" -- don't respond to the nicotine but become addicted to the oral and sensual gratification of using cigarettes.
     One's relationship with e-cigarettes can stealthily evolve from initial delight to mindless puffing to compulsion to addiction. It is not a good thing, even though the most devastating aspects of smoking tobacco have been eradicated. The feeling of enslavement to anything is a psychological handicap, certainly not good for our self-esteem or our sense of autonomy. And we, people all over the world -- are blithely jumping into this festive new fad of "vaping" as if it were just a new kind of manicure.
    Celebrities like Simon Cowell, Dennis Quaid, Katherine Heigl, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Moss, Jenny McCarthy, and my adopted "Save the Children" son, Bruno Mars, are all strutting around, conspicuously blowing steam, and probably being paid to do so.
    We don't need their influence. The product itself is attractive enough., a very handsome and masterfully conceived site on "The Art of Vaping," offers "reviews, commentary and tutorials." It hosts hundreds of articles on issues relevant to e-cigs, incredible new designs, and both scientific and cultural commentaries on the future. This site, more than anything I've seen, captures the excitement and creativity that ignite this dynamic phenomenon. People at all levels of the industry are pouring their talents into it. It blows my mind!

   I can't believe how quickly my freedom from dependency and obsession were blown to hell. The very thought of running out of cartridges made me panic. Out of the blue, I felt like a junkie, with trembling hands and dilated pupils. I bought more, even though I already had enough to last me for weeks. It reminded me of the phase when I was in a desperate love-hate relationship with opiates. 
    Much more important than my own plunge back into this little prison cell of infantile, oral ecstasy, I can't believe how e-cigarettes are blowing to hell decades of urgent public health efforts to eradicate smoking by providing solid scientific information, and by flipping the image of smoking on its sick, stupid head. As one European official puts it, "Smoking has been re-glamorized." In an Oct. 27, 2013 New York Times article, the head of marketing for NJOY says it is being "renormalized" and "reframed." Whatever euphemism you want to attach to this propaganda assault, it is REE-volting.
"Just put your lips together and whistle, you fool. Smoking is so yesteryear."
    Our society had finally evolved to regard smoking as not cool, not glamorous, not sexy or intellectual. No longer did we envision it as an aspect of sociability, leisure or festivity. At last, the images we were seeing of people having wine on a balcony, playing poker, talking in bed, chatting at a sophisticated party over hor d'oeuvres or plotting some brash spy mission in Prague, had no cigarettes involved.
    Our young people had been successfully indoctrinated to regard smoking as asinine and revolting. Statistics reported this morning by ABC News indicate that the sale of tobacco to minors in the U.S. were held near all-time lows last year under a federal-state inspection program intended to curb underage usage.
    But e-cigarettes present a whole new paradigm.
    In oldtime movies, smoking had looked so refreshing and sophisticated. In the TV and magazine ads, it was depicted either as the pastime of rugged, accomplished men or dreamy, liberated women. The packaging was beautiful.
We smoked these in high school to rebel against  being "girly."

It's nice that Americans can be proud of something.
A nefariously beautiful and enduring ad campaign.
     Even after the Surgeon General released the first of many warnings about the health effects of smoking in 1964, the nation was slow to take action. Over decades, a brilliant assault was waged. Both the news media and the public-service media skillfully selected images of smokers and smoking that made it look nauseating, even to me, while I was still a "user." Public health policy around the country turned smokers into outcasts, pariahs, pathetic losers huddled under awnings to get a "fix." Even France and Italy -- and more recently China -- have begun cracking down on smoking. (Ironically -- or is it? -- e-cigarettes were invented by a Chinese pharmacist about 10 years ago, and pretty much all of them are made in China.) It had seemed that the world was finally agreeing on something and was waging war on the same enemy. It was a rather inspiring spectacle.

    Today, after four decades in which television advertising for cigarettes has been banned, cigarettes are being advertised alluringly there and everywhere else. It's a shocking turnaround. (NJoy’s Super Bowl ad prompted a 40 percent uptick in sales in the five markets where it ran, the New York Times reported recently.) E-cig firms are allowed to sponsor sporting and entertainment events. An NJoy executive has a dream: The lead guitarist  lights up during a rock concert, and thousands of fans, throughout the stadium, take out their e-cigs in joyful solidarity.

    Dr. Glantz says that only about half the people alive today have ever seen a broadcast ad for cigarettes. “I feel like I’ve gotten into a time machine and gone back to the 1980s,” he said.
    The combination of this new technology with an aggressively competitive campaign to entice people to consume e-cigarettes has changed the whole picture with breathtaking speed. We hear about how everything is "in the cloud" these days, referring to computer data, but maybe before long we'll all be physically in a cloud of ubiquitous aromatic vapor. This global scramble has about it the unruliness of the Wild West combined with the elegance of a Parisian salon and the neon freak-out of an urban dance club. It would be fun to watch this new "reality show" -- which has about it the drama and the stakes of a high-stakes sport -- except that one has to be dismayed about where it's probably heading.

     E-cigarettes are being marketed as a fabulous fashion accessory, with colors, patterns and handsome materials to complement every outfit and mood. Your e-cigarette says who you are! Saucy and lighthearted. Classically tailored. Rebellious. Ruggedly manly.
    Maybe smoking jackets will make a return, after their long and painful obscurity?

(Let's hope not.)
    These are beautiful objects, that are being made more beautiful in their form and packaging as we speak. They feed right in to the love young people have for the physical beauty and feel of their tech gadgets. They also resemble the finest personal care products, whose shapes, colors, logos and image have more impact on sales than do the products themselves.

     At first glance, the flavors seem designed to attract the lollipop and gummy bear crowd, and I'm sure they do. Wouldn't your kid be salivating at the mention of  cherry, pina colada, peach pie, chocolate, grape, cola, apple, gummy bear, Raisinette, banana, blueberry, grapefruit, caramel, cotton candy, coconut, vanilla, or fruit punch? But wouldn't you, too? (Every night, during the national news on TV, a new adult fiber supplement is being advertised that looks and tastes like gummy bears. Is that silly or brilliant? But can you just have one?  Ex-Lax used to be delicious. creamy chocolate -- like a Hershey bar. Think what a catastrophe that must have created when people went a little crazy.) For those with "traditional" adult tastes, the e-cigs also come in java, champagne, clove, turkish tobacco, and ginger.


   But I was surprised to discover how enjoyable the touch of vanilla was in my menthol e-cig, and now I'm more open to a few other flavors.

    Wouldn't it be fun, depending on what social caste you're in, to host a "tasting" or a "potluck," at which your guests could sample all those flavors? Divine! Perhaps a new job description will be necessary, similar to the wine expert, or sommelier, who assists diners with selection and "pairings." We could call him a "puffoon," and he could advise us on which flavor goes best with various drinks: like clove with a cup of coffee, or banana with hot chocolate, or ginger with gin, or chocolate with bourbon, or vanilla with kahlua and cream. Would caramel work well with spiked egg nog? How about cherry with sangria? Or grapefruit with a margarita? Isn't this opening up a whole new world of partying, just as fondue did 50 years ago?
    But I have been unwilling to smoke publicly since the 1980s, and I still feel the same. I enjoy my solitary moments, looking out at my backyard forest. It reminds me of the 1970s ad campaign that made smoking seem so beautiful and special, with its majestic autumn trees: "This is the L&M Moment."


    E-cigarettes are arguably the most attractive and enticing consumer products to be introduced in years, with the exception -- obviously -- of the costly but magical high-tech gear that has flooded our lives. They have already sparked a truly crazy craze among the so-called Millennial generation (age 20-35) -- who accounted for 44 percent of the market as of Spring 2013, according to Forbes -- and they will very likely seduce ever-younger and older demographics as well.
Things go better with smoke, as these teens may soon discover.

    I don't blame the Mormon Church for my 40-year tobacco habit, but it is true that my friends and I began both smoking and drinking in high school in large part to repudiate the oppression we experienced as a result of its intolerance at that time.
    I take complete responsibility for continuing to smoke. Since my lifestyle was otherwise so healthy -- beautiful food, lots of exercise, dozens of supplements -- I thought maybe I was one of those people who could smoke into her 90s and suffer no ill effects. That turned out not to be the case. I developed hyperinflated lungs, a symptom of emphysema that reflects the loss of elasticity in the alveoli. So I quit.
    Isn't smoking a bizarre and puzzling phenomenon? In 1980, I read the fanciful book by Tom Robbins, "Still Life With Woodpecker," and he explained in terms that were very compelling to me:
He's a joy to read.

    “Three of the four elements are shared by all creatures, but fire was a gift to humans alone. Smoking cigarettes is as intimate as we can become with fire without immediate excruciation. Every smoker is an embodiment of Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and bringing it on back home. We smoke to capture the power of the sun, to pacify Hell, to identify with the primordial spark, to feed on them arrow of the volcano. It's not the tobacco we're after but the fire. When we smoke, we are performing a version of the fire dance, a ritual as ancient as lightning.”   
    Isn't that nice? But my motivation was always more mundane. 
    When I was alone (and much of my life as a writer in New York was very solitary), cigarettes were my companion. They turned "me" into "we."
    When I got together with friends, and we lit up together, smoking strangely enhanced the bonds of sociability. I remember many dreary winter mornings, sitting at the dining table of my best friend, smoking and drinking coffee for hours. We were both unhappy people. We always felt blue, now known as "blu." But these were interludes of real solace.
This brand, bought by Lorrillard, has 44 percent of the market.
    Lorillard (LO) has boosted distribution of its Blu eCigs to more than 80,000 stores since acquiring the brand last year for $135 million, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. It reaped $57 million in e-cigarette revenue in the first three months of the year." Lorillard is pushing hard, saying it will spend $40 million this year on marketing — a budget that amounts to 35 percent of the $114 million in Blu sales in the first half of the year," according to an October 2013 New York Times article. Murray S. Kessler, the C.E.O. of Lorillard, described the look as “edgy” and “cool.”
    (I finally decided to try Blu, as my adventure in vaping was winding down. They are terrible! I was shocked, since they are the best-selling product on the market. Must be all that "cool" advertising. The vanilla and menthol taste like dung, with some sort of pesticide thrown in. I felt as if I were poisoning myself. The batteries take forever to charge, and they only hold the charge for a few hours. The vapor is paltry, and they feel cheap to hold. When I complained about the flavor, Blu sent me some cherry, peach and pina colada for free (after I'd spent $99 on the other crap.) I didn't expect to enjoy these flavors, but they're pretty nice. The hardware, though, is very flawed.
    (This is in stark contrast to the much lesser-known Fin brand, which is a quality product: delicious, substantial and long-lasting. I especially liked the new "bold" menthol, until I sensed the nicotine. I hadn't realized that they've "emboldened" the nicotine as well as the menthol. I've never enjoyed the sensation of nicotine, which makes me feel jittery and dizzy. So I tossed them and went back to the regular menthol, with no perceptible nicotine.)
    In June, Altria Group (MO), the largest cigarette maker in the U.S., began selling its new MarkTen e-cigs in an undisclosed Indiana market. Second-biggest Reynolds American (RAI) has introduced its Vuse e-cigarette on a limited scale.
    If this whole thing plays out to its logical extreme, I see e-cigarette superstores eventually replacing the hushed, classy boutiques and the funky "vape" shops, just as Barnes & Noble eradicated cute little bookstores.
    These vast, visually overloading outlets will sell every color, pattern, style, flavor, and intensity imaginable. You will have the ability to submit your own designs, to produce patterns for special occasions, to personalize them for gifts or party favors. Maybe some will emit different kinds of light, to treat seasonal affective disorder, or to stimulate alpha or theta brain waves, or to spur the release of melatonin at bedtime.
    E-cigarettes will, of course, be called upon to multitask, like everything and everyone else. There is certainly no acceptable reason why an e-cig can't be used as a telephone. Or a dictaphone. Or a microphone. Or a telescope or microscope or sex toy. Or a flashlight or emergency beacon.
    Perhaps your text messages will appear, like skywriting, as you exhale your vapors.

(I love you, too.)
    The mouthpiece might be used to monitor the levels of cortisol, adrenaline, and bacteria in your mouth.(Researchers have discovered that the breath of whales and dolphins contains hormones, microorganisms, DNA and the byproducts of metabolism that indicate their health status, so it's not a crazy idea!
    If you're indicating a bit of anxiety, a teensy pouf of soothing lavender could automatically be included in your inhalation. Maybe if the gingivitis germs reach a certain level, your e-cig will thoughtfully squirt antiseptic mouthwash into your oral cavity. Or maybe the vapor itself should provide a steady stream of nutrients, antimicrobial agents, cognitive enhancers and "mood brighteners." Naturally, the e-cig could provide you with regular audio updates of breaking celebrity news and extreme weather warnings. At rock concerts, they could be held aloft, as cigarette lighters have been for decades, only these would project lovely shafts of light in all the colors of the rainbow. Maybe the vapor will soon be upgraded to include sparkles -- miniature fireworks displays -- for the exhibitionist types to blow around annoyingly.
    I hope to be the first to introduce limited-edition celebrity flavors, before it occurs to Beyonce and Justin to start hogging the market. I am obviously not the celebrity in whose name and aesthetic these enticements would be created: It is Elderly Girl who is the beloved planetary icon in the family. I envision something like a lime-freesia blend for the dainty people and a challenging hit of eucalyptus-black pepper for the tough babes and dudes among us. Elderly Girl thinks this whole thing is pathetic, but I need to keep her in the public eye. We both live quite luxuriously off of her endorsement deals.
    In spite of her disdain, I can imagine a scenario in which e-cigarettes could have a positive global impact.
    Remember the 1971 ad campaign (of course weren't even born!):

      "I'd like to buy the world a Coke,
 and keep it company
 I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony."
    Well, I'd like to buy the world a smoke, but it seems unnecessary -- everyone's buying them for themselves. Couldn't these babies unite us all in love and serenity, like a great big peace pipe? I guess pot would work better, but we can't really do that on a global (or even municipal) scale at the moment. If we're all whooshing the pure, innocent essences of cotton candy, spearmint and vanilla through our nostrils, wouldn't the idea of attacking another country just make us snort? Wouldn't we sing, "Let it Be" instead, recalling the enlightenment of Beatle John Lennon?
"Whisper words of wisdom: Let it be"
     If enough of us deeply, deeply inhale lots of the chocolate flavor, couldn't that finally put an end to racism?
    And if we blow enough vapor, couldn't it and "the cloud" become one, so that we could inhale music and exhale data?
    And isn't it possible that all that vapor could "vaporize" global warming?
    I have a dream. As usual, it is outlandish, but so is everything else. It could happen.


Vaping has become a foodie's dream: luscious, calorie-free confections.

FOLLOW-UP COVERAGE: The E-Cigarette Conspiracy: You Can't Handle the Truth! 


BITCHY, CYNICAL FOLLOW-UP: This is a smoke-filled room, whether you want to call it vapor or not!

"Put it in my mouth, baby."
     VIP, an e-cigarette maker in Britain, has reacted to what it felt was a dumb ban against its ads by producing a smutty campaign full of sexual innuendo that's blatantly more controversial than the previous one but which apparently falls within the letter of the law.

     The Ad Standards Authority previously reprimanded VIP and other e-cigarette makers for running ads that weren't clear they were for e-cigarettes, and didn't mention that the products contain nicotine. Both of those facts are clear enough in the 20-second teaser below—after you hear the woman telling you to "get it out" and "put it in my mouth." There's a version with a man, too.

Facing a decision on whether to impose tight restrictions on a booming market for electronic cigarettes, members of the European Parliament received a pleading letter in September that was signed by thousands of former smokers worried that “the positive story of e-cigarettes may be about to come to an abrupt halt.” As the headquarters of the European Union, Brussels sets regulatory standards that resonate around the world. It rivals Washington as a focus for corporate lobbying, with an estimated 30,000 professional lobbyists with registered lobbying firms and thousands more who operate beneath the radar.

UPDATE FROM Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 21
Future growth and regulations were very much on the minds of those who attended the Wells Fargo Securities Inaugural E-Cig Forum, which take place Nov. 21 at the New York Palace Hotel. Both are inevitable for the electronic cigarette segment as it continues to evolve from niche product to a vital part of the tobacco category. Manufacturers, investors and other industry insiders came together at the event to learn more about where e-cigarettes are going as a group, and as individual companies.

UPDATE FROM The Guardian, UK, Nov 24:
On Monday, e-cigarette makers Gamucci will open the world's first airport "vaping zone" in the Terminal 4 international departure lounge at London's Heathrow Airport.
If the zone is a success, it'll be seen as a huge victory for the burgeoning e-cigarette industry. But with a name like that it doesn't stand a chance. Vaping zone. Is this what we're supposed to call the act of smoking an electronic cigarette? Vaping? Are e-smokers vapists?

UPDATE FROM /MarketersMedia/ Miami USA - November 24th, 2013  -- A selection of electronic cigarette and 'vaping' prizes from top e-cigarette brands, are being given away in a new online sweepstakes that has just launched at The giveaway is sponsored by the soon to launch 'Smokeless Cigarette and Vaping' magazine SMOKELESS ( in the lead up to the site officially going 'live' in early 2014.
Prizes from renowned e-cigarette brands, starting with bestselling and top-rated V2 Cigs starter kits featuring the latest 'V2 Cigs EX' battery and clearomizer line, are being awarded every day in November and through the end of December 2013. Interested smokers of legal age (18 years or older) can submit their entry for free starting immediately at the new website

UPDATE from New York Times Dec.5,2013:

Councilman James F. Gennaro of Queens, the prime sponsor of the bill, said the time to regulate electronic cigarettes was now. “I’m just not willing to wait for Big Tobacco to completely take over the electronic cigarette industry, and then you’ll get nothing out of Washington, because people are bought and paid for,” he said. (

UPDATE from Chicago Tribune Dec. 23:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - At the Henley Vaporium, one of a growing number of e-cigarette lounges sprouting up in New York and other U.S. cities, patrons can indulge in their choice of more than 90 flavors of nicotine-infused vapor, ranging from bacon to bubble gum.
The lounge, located in Manhattan's trendy Lower East Side, features plush seating, blaring rock music, and fresh juice and coffee. A sprawling sign on one wall lists all the carcinogens that e-cigarette users avoid by kicking their smoking habits and using the e-devices instead.

UPDATE Jan. 24, 2014: SMOKING BANS IN PRISONS HAVE ALWAYS SEEMED particularly problematic to me. Having worked on Rikers Island, I know how few pleasures and comforts are available to prisoners. But the argument about second-hand smoke was, of course, very persuasive. Now, county jails in at least seven states have permitted the sale of a limited selection of flavors of e-cigarettes to inmates. They have quickly become one of the most sought-after items in jail commissaries. And although federal prisons ban e-cigarettes, the inmate market has so much potential that Chinese and American manufacturers now produce “jail-safe” versions made of plastic instead of metal. I hope this can be expanded to all correctional facilities. Smoking can make life tolerable. One official said that “pretty much everyone” at his jail was a smoker when he was arrested, said they had nearly sold out of the 1,500 devices bought for the facility’s 350 inmates. “It’s been tremendous,” he said.

UPDATE Feb. 4, 2014:  According to the Wall Street Journal, "America’s dominant tobacco company is getting serious about electronic cigarettes. Marlboro cigarette maker Altria Group Inc. said Monday it will buy Israeli  e-cigarette upstart Green Smoke Inc. for $110 million-- nearly three times the $40 million that the private company, which launched in 2008, earned in sales last year --  in the latest sign the battery-powered devices are moving from fad to mainstay and pose a rising competitive threat to traditional smokes."

 UPDATE Feb. 7: Feb. 7, 2014 -- "Clearette Electronic Cigarette Company has been declared the 2014 Winner of's "Closest Taste To A Tobacco Cigarette Award." Rapidly growing Clearette stole the show from bigger tobacco based blu, and upstarts Njoy and Logic, as well as over 100 other entrants. "It was a blind taste test we literally blindfolded the judges, and getting it down from the initial 118 entrants was easy," says's  Jordan Rubero. "Some of these things don't even resemble a tobacco flavor.  Our judges were using descriptions like burning landfill, scorched oil, and rotten eggs.  The last 20 was harder, but Clearette kept coming to the front of the table.  In the end it was down to 10 brands, but Clearette was the unanimous choice of our 8 judges." (Why go for a tobacco taste when you can have espresso or vanilla mint?)"

E-cigs’ startups on fire as tobacco companies prepare to buy
UPDATE FEB 9 from the New York Post:
Altria’s acquisition of Green Smokes is the first major deal since Lorillard’s acquisition of Blu e-cigarettes for $135 million in 2012. But analysts say others will likely follow suit this year. Wells Fargo projects that in the next decade, e-cigarette consumption will “eclipse” that of traditional cigarettes. That’s why investors and big tobacco companies alike are zeroing in on e-cigarette companies as the key to bringing the lucrative, yet antiquated, tobacco industry into the digital age.

UPDATE FEB 11 from the New York Post:
"Altria’s acquisition of Green Smoke is the first major deal since Lorillard’s acquisition of Blu e-cigarettes for $135 million in 2012. But analysts say others will likely follow suit this year.
Wells Fargo projects that in the next decade, e-cigarette consumption will “eclipse” that of traditional cigarettes. That’s why investors and big tobacco companies alike are zeroing in on e-cigarette companies as the key to bringing the lucrative, yet antiquated, tobacco industry into the digital age.
“What was years ago a cult fad is now more than doubling in sales annually the last three years,” noted Sam Hamadeh, CEO of research company PrivCo.

UPDATE Feb. 13 from The Register Guard:
SALEM — "State lawmakers on Wednesday stubbed out the possibility of any new restrictions on electronic cigarettes in Oregon this year. They had been weighing two concepts: a ban on sales of e-cigarettes to minors and a ban on the indoor use of the products in most public places and in workplaces, as is the case with conventional tobacco use. “I expect HB 4115 or something very like it will pass in 2015, but it won’t be easy,” Rep. Phil Barnhart said in a prepared statement. “Big Tobacco will do whatever it takes to initiate and maintain addiction to nicotine in order to protect its sales.” "

Rutter's e-cigarette billboard
UPDATE Feb 13 The Patriot News"More than five years after they debuted on the market, electronic cigarettes, the battery powered devices that deliver liquid nicotine and emit vapor - not harmful smoke - remain largely unregulated in Pennsylvania.No federal or state law currently restrict or regulate their use or sale. The FDA has reportedly been considering and drafting a policy, but arguably, seems to lack urgency."

UPDATE Feb. 13 from Businessweek: "Two smaller startups, Victory Electronic Cigarettes and FIN Branding Group, announced a merger, which comes on the heels of Victory’s purchase of Vapestick, a relatively hot e-cig brand in Europe. All told, the merged companies expect to collect more than $100 million in sales this year while saving about $10 million in costs, mostly in production, distribution, and marketing....Still, it looks like all the same forces that drive success for traditional smokes will prevail in the vapor game—namely, manufacturing efficiencies, wide distribution, and marketing, marketing, marketing. These are the things that Big Tobacco excels at."

UPDATE FEB 21 THE STREET: Victory Electronic Cigarettes is the largest pure play e-cigarette company by market cap, at $672 million. Victory has been very aggressive in expanding. In December 2013, Victory acquired Vapestick, one of the leading electronic cigarette companies in Europe, for $70 million in cash and stock. Since then, Victory has been aggressively expanding Vapestick throughout Europe. Victory recently announced a merger with Fin, increasing the company's retail presence significantly, to over 50,000 retail stores nationwide.

UPDATE FEB 27 New York Times:  The European Parliament approved rules for the region’s fast-growing market for electronic cigarettes, regulations that could help set a benchmark for standards around the world.
Beginning in mid-2016, advertising for e-cigarettes would be banned in the 28 nations of the European Union, as it already is for ordinary tobacco products. E-cigarettes would also be required to carry graphic health warnings and must be childproof. The amount of nicotine would be limited to 20 milligrams per milliliter, similar to ordinary cigarettes.

UPDATE MARCH 1, New York TimesNJOY received a $70 million capital injection from a group of investors including Brookside Capital and Morgan Stanley Investment Management, in the latest vote of confidence for a fast-growing industry. The company boasts several entrepreneurial investors including Sean Parker, the co-founder of the now-defunct Napster, and Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal.
The private round of funding values the company at around $1 billion.

Couture starter kit: $150.
UPDATE March 17 Ad Age: The maker of V2 ecigs rolls out elegant "slims" for women called V Couture with rose color and Rodeo Drive Flavor.

UPDATE March 23 Washington Post:  Vapefest -- full of rowdy fun, flavor and, of course, a persistent, aromatic, vaporous haze. “You’re not saving anyone’s life,” says party pooper Cynthia Cabrera of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association during a “legal and political education” breakout session for festgoers. “You’re selling a lifestyle product.”

UPDATE: A study to be published in the May 2014 issue of the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research finds that the high-power e-cigarettes known as tank systems produce formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. The concentration can be as high as that found in tobacco smoke. Unlike disposable e-cigarettes, which tend to mimic the look and feel of conventional smokes, tank systems tend to be larger devices heated with batteries that can vary in voltage, often resembling fountain pens or small flashlights. Users fill them with liquid nicotine, or e-liquid, and the devices are powerful enough to vaporize that fluid quickly, producing thick plumes and a big nicotine kick. These newer systems now represent 35 percent of the market, but they are growing twice as fast as the previous models.

UPDATE MAY 21 New York Times: A large study in England has found that smokers trying to quit were substantially more likely to succeed if they used electronic cigarettes than over-the-counter therapies. About a fifth of those who said they were using e-cigarettes had stopped smoking at the time of the survey, compared with about a tenth of people who had used patches and gum.

ODD UPDATE SEPT. 30 New York Times: "Tobacco companies, long considered public health enemy No. 1, have suddenly positioned themselves as protectors of consumer well-being in the digital age. They are putting out among the strongest health warnings in the fledgling e-cigarette industry, going further even than the familiar ones on actual cigarettes, a leading cause of death. It has left the industry’s critics scratching their heads and deeply skeptical.(