The E-Cig Adventure

(How bizarre, how bizarre)
 Rapturous or repulsive? It was a bit of both.
    My seven-month immersion in the e-cigarette "movement" began innocently enough, as a straightforward journalistic article about this colorful new phenomenon, which is fascinating on so many levels. Before I knew it, I found myself puffing away -- although I had given up smoking 10 years earlier -- and feeling ecstatic about this adorable new companion. I became obsessed with all that gear, and all those flavors, and pretty soon I had such a smorgasbord set up in my den, that I seemed to be spending all my time and energy charging batteries, filling cartomizers, and trying to get the fabled heat, intense taste treat and "throat hit" that I had been reading about. I sucked those babies until my cheeks caved in, but I didn't get "no satisfaction" -- just lots of consternation. 
    At least I had a great roller-coaster ride, as I explored the various aspects -- from scientific to political to entrepreneurial to cultural -- of the e-cigarette tsunami. It was a blast. And I briefly became a star of Spinfuel magazine's news blog, as my stories reached number ten, seven, four and one out of hundreds of fine articles. It was an excellent adventure.
    I have collected the articles here, and taken all but two off of the front page of my blog. They were dominating Kronstantinople, and nothing gets to dominate my territory except for me.

These two continue to have the greatest readership:

 The E-Cigarette Seduction: Are We Blowing It?
The Great White Hoax: E-cigarettes are delicious, but they don't deliver nicotine

These stories appear below:

Picking Up Steam: E-cigs' excellent evolution
The e-cigarette conspiracy: You can't handle the truth!
Vaping Imagery: From divine to disgusting in six months
E-cig Semantics: If this isn't a smoke-filled room, I don't know what is
The Big Blow: I misoverestimated my interest
Praise the Lord: I Got Bored. I Quit.

Picking Up Steam: E-cigs' excellent evolution

From "nicotine replacement" to gourmet indulgence
Vaping has become a foodie's dream: luscious, calorie-free confections.
    I am craving cotton candy so much right now. But the butterscotch, creme brulee and fudge brownies are calling my name, too. On days like this, it's best to just close up shop, kick back in your La-Z-Boy recliner (preferably with a view of the clouds outside), and devote yourself to creating sweet clouds of your own.
    For decades now, smoking has generally been regarded  as a "vice," and a "dirty habit,." even by smokers themselves. Then, e-cigarettes stampeded into the market, with the head-tossing ebullience of wild horses. They offered a "clean," stylish, infinitely safer alternative to smoking. A passionate, activist vaping community has sprung up almost overnight, throughout the U.S. and Europe.
    The notion that e-cigs perpetuate nicotine addiction is fading fast. These products don't even deliver nicotine in therapeutic amounts, but they do unexpectedly exert a powerful, wonderful "placebo effect."
    So the whole thrust of this energetic, creative entrepreneurial adventure has gradually shifted from nicotine delivery to creating a "smoking-like" experience that provides pleasure and relaxation. The best products envelop the the user in flavor, "throat hit," and aromatic vapor. Vaping has become a banquet, with an ever-changing array of luscious flavors. We aren't in Marlboro Country anymore. Today's men have learned that blowing banana-creme doesn't compromise your masculinity. Neither does kiwi or gummy bear.

From blueberry cheesecake, to English toffee to pumpkin pie to bacon French toast: Just say "Vape."

    Participants in a study in the journal Addiction (2013) compared their use of e-cigarettes to "snacking" and "grazing." This has become a new recreational phenomenon that challenges our preconceptions about smoking. E-cigs, and particularly the customized "personal vaporizers" (PVs), are becoming lifestyle accoutrements that combine aspects of technology, personal care, fine dining, and fashion. 
     E-cigarettes are perhaps the most charming fraud of our new millennium. They fail to do the precise thing they are supposed to do -- give us a "drug fix" -- and yet we love them. That's a lovely irony! We've been gypped, in a good way.

Yes, my people: You CAN vape tiramisu. We've come a long way, baby.
    And the e-cig phenomenon has unexpectedly unleashed innovative alternatives for achieving the pleasure that dangerous tobacco cigarettes have provided for generations -- alternatives that have little to do with nicotine, but that transform "vaping" into a whole new phenomenon: an endless banquet of luscious sensation.
    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.

    I have never in my life heard people rave so incessantly about flavor -- not even the foodiest of foodies! I have never heard even the most discerning wine connoisseurs wax poetic about the "notes" and "palate feel" of a special vintage with the same ardency as do vapers describing the latest e-juice concoction.
Kiwi, mango, berry and vanilla cookie, all in one euphoric vape.
    E-cigs have a powerful placebo effect in those who are "addicted" to nicotine. It is expressed succinctly and memorably by one of the world's top tobacco researchers, and one of my most helpful correspondents, Dr. Ricarrdo Polosa, Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Catania, in Italy:

 “An e-cigarette is not a cessation device but a sensation device.”
    And what a nice sensation it is -- much nicer than cigarettes ever were. It is sleek, clean and delicious.

    Polosa elaborates: "The e-cigarette -- a much safer product that can reproduce the experience of 'smoking without smoking' -- is a revolutionary opportunity for smokers, who now can pursue abstinence without giving up the pleasure that derives from their smoking behavior."

   There is something very primal about all of this. We want to suck and blow -- we can't help it! We want to be cloud-makers! We want fragrant flavors wafting through us! We need to keep our oral apparatus pleasantly occupied, one way or another. This may be infantile, from a psychological point of view, but it's a very common fixation, as both smokers and overeaters know only too well.
    This desire has created a blossoming industry whose exuberance and dynamism I hope will slay the nicotine purveyors.   
"Vaping" is the new "juicing."
   The most experienced, dedicated and discerning "vapers" have created a magnificently monstrous new obsession. I think this is fun and kind of funny. Their PVs look more like musical instruments or weapons than cigarettes. Some of them are big, mean machines. But according to their web sites and blogs, to store proprietors I've interviewed, and to emails I've received, the goal is INTENSE FLAVOR, INTENSE HEAT/ THROAT SENSATION AND LOTS OF VAPOR -- NOT NICOTINE.  All those buttons and gauges allow them to tweak everything, except nicotine.

Heaven: Pound cake, cream filling, buttery icing, nuts, mocha, and fruits, forever.
    Most of the connoisseurs of these extreme devices are former smokers who were weaned off of nicotine by conventional e-cigarettes (often without realizing it), and are now ardent advocates for this tasty new pastime. On Saturdays, especially, vape shops around the country are packed with people sharing insights, techniques and tricks.

    They rave about the newest flavors: "Have you tried Purple Dragon? Shit, man, it's better than sex." Or, "Hey, thanks for the tip about Pineapple Rum. It really chilled me out."
    The flavor biz is going wild. I thought it was silly at first. I wanted a plain, menthol e-cig that looked just like a homely, olden-days tobacco cigarette. But the "foodie" aspect of vaping is intriguing. It seems that every day, dozens of new flavors are put online. And now that they've all done the fruits and common confections and beverages, they're creating unheard-of palate pleasers, some of them with "secret recipes."
Peanut butter! Over your palate and out your nose! What could be more divine?

The flavor is the thing -- not the nicotine -- and there are no calories!
      Joe Petner of Vaper Joe’s  predicts juice will continue to become "more and more boutique style with fancier packaging, labels, and unique shaped bottles."
    Phil Busardo, of Taste Your Juice, writes in Duworth's excelllent Ashtray Blog, "I think we’re going to see more and more liquid companies doing things the right way. Clean rooms, immaculate mixing facilities, documented processes, correct air handling systems, etc. I think these are the e-liquid companies who will be around for the long haul. Self regulation is the key to success here. More focus on airflow and where it’s provided. This will allow the ability to tailor your device to the e-liquid you’re using or the environment you’re using it in. Juice flow control would help out here as well. Different heating elements. More power and safer devices."

Ah, feel the fruitiness of nature rippling through your head! Sweet!
    Bloog Vaping seems to be the perfect example of what Busardo hopes to see: "companies doing things the right way."
   Although it lacks the mega-financing to launch flashy promotional campaigns, its dedication to quality directly addresses the health and safety concerns that so many -- including vapers -- have raised about this new phenomenon.
    Disclaimer: Bloog graciously sent me nine bottles of e-liquid to try, at no charge, even though I informed them that I was not a "reviewer" of juice, and that if I did express my opinions, they might be negative. To offset somewhat their gift, I purchased my "hardware" from Bloog. I have never used anything but a pre-packaged, ready-to-use, WalMart e-cig, so I'm having to learn how to screw things together (not my strong suit) and fill tiny containers with fluids (will it be worth it? I'll soon find out).
    Bloog e-liquid, produced by NicoPremia, is the first liquid that is manufactured in a pharmaceutical facility located in the United States, according to the company's web site. The facility is FDA-registered and DEA-certified. Bloog Viquid™ is made with U.S.-sourced ingredients that have achieved USP, (United States Pharmacopoeia), designation and is manufactured using cGMP, (Current Good Manufacturing Process), processes. Bloog requires official certificates of analysis from an FDA-approved, DEA-certified facility, and pass all FDA stability tests, the web site states.
If this industry is to succeed, and be worthy of success, we'll need to see more of this kind of dedication.
     A case study: Kent Brooks is proprietor and "master mixologist" at (he is also a licensed clinical mental health professional -- what a nice combination). His firm was the overwhelming winner in all of the best-flavor categories at the Electronic Cigarette Forum convention in 2013, and was named Vendor of the Year. 

    He creates the recipes for all of his flavors, which include FreNilla, a creamy french vanilla liquid that is "highly variable with regard to a wattage sweet spot," as well as Custard's Last Stand, and Doodle, a tribute to the beloved Snickerdoodle cookie, with its hint of ginger. 
    The two most original creations currently on his ever-changing menu are Gravity, which blends tangerine, cranberry, peach and pomegranate, and H1N1, Kent's personal favorite, which he regards as his first "masterpiece." Despite the "ample throat hit," it is a very smooth vape, he reassures his fans. The flavor is "affectionately known as 'The Virus'."
Kent's Gravity flavor is a fruit-lover's dream.
"Catch H1N1 before it catches you," Kent jokingly warns.
    The predominant flavor notes "depend on device and steep time -- many customers have noted that H1N1 'changes flavor profiles more frequently than a teenage drama queen changes clothes.' Early in the life-cycle of H1N1, notes of chocolate, peanuts, and caramel serve to accent an even-bodied dry tobacco flavor.  There is a faint cinnamon hue that resides underneath," Kent explains, like a true celebrity chef.   

    " "was formed for one reason... we are passionate about vaping," he says. "There is a sense of solidarity, a common experience if you will... this is a community you can be proud to be a member of." 
    Kent is the first vaping expert with whom I corresponded about this intriguing business model. I asked him if I was correct in my impression that gourmet vapers are not particularly interested in nicotine. 
Chocolate, peanuts, caramel: Hey, it's H1N1!
     "Typically with performance increases in the delivery device, the nicotine content in the liquid decreases.  Less nicotine in the liquid itself actually tastes better.  All the high-end gear I have collected is in the interest of flavor and vapor production," he wrote to me. "It has almost nothing to do with  nicotine. (Like most people) I started with low-end gear and 18mg, and now I vape 6mg and it's almost too much.  Soon I'll be on 3mg.  We're all trying to get off nicotine, no one likes being addicted." 
    He likes to think of his product as "dessert without the calories," and that's how I like to think of it as well. I stopped eating desserts decades ago. Now, maybe I can resume my decadent gorging, if I can find some flavors that don't smell/taste like my lip balm or shampoo. 
    Actually, my favorite so far isn't even dessert: It's the strong minty Cirrus by Fancee Juice. So refreshing! And I got zero nicotine in mine. It might just become my sole flavor.                                                         

To quote The Temptations, "Look out baby, 'cause here I come!"
    John Manzione, publisher of Spinfuel Magazine, predicts that the top-shelf companies “will continue to put out delicious new flavors, some even managing to avoid the ‘variation on a theme’ curse and come up with something brand new… see The Plume Room’s ‘Angel Sauce’ for example, or Rocket Fuel Vapes ‘Limerick.' Both are fine examples of the huge improvements in great tasting eJuice.”    

    Spinfuel's review of "Angel Sauce" sounds like an adorable satire: "It is exactly the kind of eLiquid that gets you excited about vaping. That great fruit-sherbet flavor, the great dessert flavor, that one flavor you see among your collection and think “Oh yeah, that one! Come here you!”… And without warning Angel Sauce becomes the all-day vape that you want, you hope for, for one reason; you don’t want to stop vaping it. "
     The review continues enticingly: "After that sweet delicate raspberry sherbet flavor comes a rush of sweet lime with gentle orange notes, as they mix together to form a combination that your taste buds recognize but just haven’t encountered in vapor form until now. Vaping Angel Sauce feels good. I mean you expect it to taste good, but to feel good? That’s new, that’s rare."

Oh, what a feeling! Take your passion, and make it happen!
     It feels good. Like a cigarette should. And there's no mention of nicotine, just the ecstasy of vaping good flavor
    Spinfuel adds: "Angel Sauce says something about the great talent of The Plume Room’s Andrea, a master of flavor, but it also says something about the future of eLiquids, how after all this time new flavor experiences are possible, that the eJuice marketplace doesn’t have to be a market full of ‘variations on a theme’. There remains room for originality and creativity, room for great new flavors that will satisfy in ways you never thought were possible. That’s a lot of responsibility for a single new flavor, but Angel Sauce truly carries that weight marvelously."

The Plume Room's "light, sweet" blueberry-and-cream flavor.
Or try their banana pudding with vanilla & pie crust flavor.

    I find all of this to be "marvelously" amazing. The passion, and devotion to quality and innovation, and the exuberant sharing of information, are the nicest expression of the entrepreneurial spirit I've ever seen.

     Spinfuel has made the review of e-juice into a virtual art form.
     Its team -- publisher John Manzione, along with "dedicated vapers" Tom McBride, Julia Hartley-Barnes, Keira Hartley-Barnes, Dave Foster and Steve Kaderabek -- do a beautiful job of conveying their passion and their sophisticated "taste."
    "Each of us is trained in evaluating e liquids for flavor, vapor, throat hit, complexity, layers, and the mysterious ‘vape satisfaction’ element," Manzione says.   
    " 'Irreducible Complexity'....a term from the scientific method of  "Intelligent Design," applies here perfectly," he explains, in describing his criteria for distinguishing "premium" from "non-premium" juice. "Irreducible Complexity simply means that without ALL the parts of a ‘thing’ it won’t work. With respect to a premium e liquid, if you remove ‘talent’ from the equation a ‘premium e liquid’ is impossible. Remove the best possible ingredients, and the same thing happens. Irreducible Complexity requires ALL the parts; so ALL premium e liquid brands are Irreducibly Complex."
    These delightful people mean business! Like those who love art, dance and avant-garde film, they have thought long and hard about what makes Greatness.
   "The element of ‘talent for creating’ is still elusive, and rare. That will never change, and there will always be certain people, I call them flavorists, who will always bring us the best e liquids," Manzione says, like a true connoisseur. 
    And to think that this whole new phenomenon is based upon an aversion to one of the deadliest consumables ever devised: cigarettes.  

Vaporstix went broke claiming its e-cigs were a weight-loss aid.

Can you 'vape' vitamins? Possibly.
        Vitamin Smoke eliquid claims to contain Vitamin C, echinacea, Vitamin B12 and optional nicotine and caffeine.  It's available in Acai Berry Caffeine, Double Apple, Fancy Creme Brulle, Cinnamon Bun, Grape, Melon Breeze, Mocha Coffee Caffeine, Purple Haze, Blueberry, Mint and Peach.

Rocket Fuel''s "Limerick" is intended to taste like Key Lime pie.
    Will the enthusiasm for vaping endure, or is it just a fad? It seems to me that vaping does satisfy something primal in us (or some of us, anyway), and that if the quality of the experience is good, it might become a lasting part of the culture. I think vaping could easily become a habit, without necessarily being a vice or an addiction. It might establish itself in the accepted smorgasbord of life's little pleasures: a mode of relaxation, an aspect of socializing, a comfort, an aid to contemplation and an after-dinner treat. Those who have never smoked at all might not relate to this scenario, but I think those who have would agree: It's a joy!'s so nice just to lie back and let the thoughts flow.

Vaping Imagery: From divine to disgusting in six months

Hey lady: Thanks for making us look so attractive.
    When I took the plunge into the study and personal use of e-cigarettes last August, the photographs of vaping and vaping gear were beautiful. They were stylish, hip, creative, sleek. This seemed like a dignified and delightful pastime that blended fashion, technology and sensual pleasure in a very compelling way.
    What the hell has happened? As I continue to monitor coverage of the e-cigarette issue, I never see this beauty any more. I don't see the refreshingly "clean" portrayals of this alternative to a "filthy habit."
    Almost overnight, the image of vaping has been dirtied up, and it's been done damned effectively. I'd like to blame the media, or some conspiracy of the Usual Suspects, but I can't do that honestly. We as vapers are the major contributors to this in-your-face blow-up of how vaping and vapers are viewed. We are fueling, in very graphic ways, many of the  prejudices and objections espoused by our opponents. WTF? Maybe we should clean up our acts and try not to look quite so grotesque. No wonder people want us out of sight!

This girl should be quarantined. She's obviously very ill. Is it nerve gas?
And this poor boy seems on the verge of puking his brains out. So am I.
     Vaping entered the public domain initially as a seemingly civilized phenomenon that conveyed the smoothness and elegance that tobacco cigarettes had represented back in the Cary Grant days. Now that we had been thoughtfully programmed to despise tobacco, e-cigarettes brought back sheen and savoir faire to the act of displaying our inhalations and exhalations to others. 
    In my initial e-cig research, just six months ago, I don't recall coming across a single photo that made me cringe. Indeed, everything about this new product was aesthetically pleasing.
    My, how things have changed. Current images of vaping look like one big steamy vomitorium, featuring people who either don't realize they're making a spectacle of themselves, or want to, or don't care that they are. This amuse bouche that was so recently depicted as classy and euphoric has become breathtakingly unsavory.

Do I seem bullish?

It probably tastes better than it looks.
It probably looks more miserable than it is.
     It's not an appealing or interesting spectacle. It's just disheartening: A total turnoff. It reminds me of the moment in New York City decades ago when boomboxes suddenly seemed to be everywhere, aggressively imposing their thumping bass cacophony on everyone in town. (Actually, I liked it, even though the behavior was obnoxious. It's much more fun to walk down the sidewalk when you've got a good, stomping beat to propel you along). But in general, people were dismayed that here was yet another way in which their world was becoming more unruly and assaultive. To quote Dionne Warwick:
"If you see me walking down the street, and I start to cry, each time we meet, walk on by."
     And to quote Faith Hill, about "the slow and steady rush" in "Just Breathe":

"I can feel  you breathe. It's washing into me. And suddenly I'm melting into you."
      (People don't want to be melting into us, or to have our flavored breath melting into their atmosphere. Doesn't that seem reasonable?) 
    Or to throw in a little Pitbull ("Mami got an ass like a donkey, with a monkey, look like King Kong, welcome to the crib"):

"I know you want me. You know I want you. I know you want me. You know I want you."
    Or the Temptations, pleading for clouds in "Let it Rain":

"I'm a man and I got my pride. Give me rain or I'm gonna stay inside."
    It doesn't really look like pride, though, does it? It reveals someone who just wants to disappear into a haze of defeat, the poor guy.
    Seen from the perspective of those who have come to expect a smoke-free environment, vaping isn't just "air pollution." It's life pollution. It's a distraction, an annoyance, one more thing that many people feel requires an exertion of will to ignore or tolerate.
    It doesn't have to be that way.

Smoke signals: The message is, "To hell with what you think."
Hey! You! Get onto my cloud! You don't have any choice!
     I would like to offer a motto for your consideration:

"Friends don't let vaper-friends vape vaporously (in public)."

    Aren't we doing ourselves a disservice by turning this lovely indulgence into a brazen horror show, starring ourselves? 

Let's see how many people's personal space we can invade!
     Frankly, I think children blowing bubbles look more mature and sensible than many vapers do. Ditto for people chewing huge wads of gum or slurping Asian noodles. Screaming babies are annoying, but we realize they can't help it. We can. I would be more comfortable "pleasuring" myself in public (if I knew how -- I never figured it out) than to put on such a display of screw-you hedonism as we often see from vapers. 

Oh what a relief it is: One blow job after another.
The vanishing act: A lot of folks wish we'd all follow suit.
      Let's face it: Vaping, like smoking, is a manifestation of oral fixation, which -- psychiatrically speaking -- is considered to be infantile. We're pacifying ourselves. We're basically sucking our thumbs. In at least some cases, we're putting our deep-seated neediness on display for all to see. 
    I'm not being judgmental here: I'm as orally fixated as they come, with a quite melodramatic history of eating disorders to prove it. I've got to have something (sometimes two or three things) going on with my mouth pretty much all the time. When I worked at the newspaper, I went through a mega-pack of gum each morning, and then switched to a big plastic bag filled with sliced carrots and apples. It was embarrassing -- quite gross to behold, I'm sure. But I couldn't sit there and do my cerebral work without the oral dynamic to fuel it.

    Still, exhibiting our need for this kind of comfort and gratification is not a very pleasant tableaux to be throwing in other people's faces. At least my carrot strips didn't swirl through the office, entering resentful nostrils (although my relentless chewing was probably irritating to many people.) So don't look at me. I know that takes will power, but you can master it! Stare at one of the other babes, who soothes her anxieties in a less "horsie" fashion.
    Maybe we should just vape with vapers, vape alone, or vape with some subtlety and restraint. Unlike this:

Get a room, you two. Another room!

"Oh my god, don't let this end!"

"I'm not too bright, but I sure know how to blow. Watch me!"

"I'll hide, and you can seek. Isn't this fun?"
Remember not so long ago, when no one was doing this anymore?
Sharing his cotton candy -- whether you want some or not.

    I don't want to represent myself as Miss Manners: an icon of propriety and etiquette. I am hopelessly immature. I blurt out whatever pops into my head, often using gratuitous profanity for shock value. I dress inappropriately, and don't give a shit what anyone thinks. I don't feel totally alive unless I'm creating some sort of commotion. I am The Misbehaver. 
    But that's when it's just me, and my image, and my reputation, that are at stake. When we as vapers misbehave, it hurts all of us. It damages what has quickly become a "cause." That's not cool.

Thank you for bringing such bubonic glamor into our midst.
"Let's get synchronized, so we can commandeer more attention."
    I have sensed an evolution from the enthusiastic discovery and embrace of e-cigarettes by vapers to a besieged victim mentality. Vapers are understandably concerned about the threat of over-regulation (I'm not worried about it -- nobody in authority has enough balls to do anything about anything), but their fear seems to have become angry, defensive and close-minded. A paranoid, bunker atmosphere has descended. "They're out to get us."

    Spinfuel magazine, which I respect and enjoy, reflects this extreme stance. 
    "If you pay any attention to news concerning electronic cigarettes then you know that every single day we are facing new attacks, bans, attempts to ban, taxes, attempts to tax, and so on and so forth from the federal level all the way down to the city and town level. You would think from all the negative exposure that vaping was a whole lot worse than heroin addiction or ‘vaping with friends’ has become the equivalent of being a member of some malicious, satanic cult," publisher John Manzione writes feverishly.

Are vapers equated with members of a satanic cult? I don't think so.
    "These attacks against an activity that is virtually harmless, is maddening. Understanding the reasoning behind the little to alleviate the anger we all harbor against such stupidity. It seems that no matter what we try to do, no matter what science reveals that supports our position, especially over nicotine, no one on the other side is listening to a word we’re saying," he continues. (Science reveals quite a bit that does not support their position as well.)
    "We should set aside ALL other concerns we have as voters and focus on one thing: the right to vape. We must vote against anyone in public office that does not support our right to vape. If we do not make this commitment to each other, today, we run the risk of losing it all."
Dudes: You're going overboard. Maybe a little reefer would ease the panic.
     Manzione characterizes efforts to regulate e-cigarettes as "evil" and "insane."
    "I can’t stress this enough, and it bears repeating over and over…
…If we do not stand together against the tyrants, the greedy, the corrupt, and the zealots, we will lose,"  he concludes. 
    Really, John. Please calm down. I fear that your own vested interest in this industry has given you a severe case of hysteria and tunnel vision. The debate about the pros and cons of vaping is not evil or insane -- it's just common sense. Let's keep things in perspective, dear man. How can you possibly believe that vaping is the most important issue in America? God!

"Let's freak out all those tight-asses with a new Rainbow Coalition."
    Vapers have begun to behave like an oppressed minority that feels so terrifyingly beleaguered, it must rise up en masse and obliterate the "enemy" with belligerent fanaticism. Kill the doubters! Smash the sketptics! Vapers are exhorted to "stand up to The Man" by defying social norms, ridiculing the concerns of even the most reasonable commentators, and displaying their defiance in a flamboyant fashion. There have already been demonstrations, and I have little doubt that we'll soon have parades, over-the-top Miss Vape pageants and benefit concerts to "raise awareness and solidarity." Picketers -- instead of shouting "Hell no -- we won't go," will declare, "Don't gape -- we're gonna vape!" How rousing! How brave! A new militancy! Too bad we didn't get this organized around the invasion of Iraq.

A courageous "act of defiance."
    Shit, you guys! This is unnecessary and trivial. What's more, it's an insult to those who really are oppressed minorities. Slogans such as "I'm black and I'm proud," and "I'm queer, and I'm here," and "ACT UP" sprung forth from years, decades and centuries of suffering.

    Vapers are not an oppressed minority, and those who feel they deserve that designation need to review history and to relearn what actual physical and psychic brutality do to the human spirit.
    Those who truly were oppressed had the standing to spew fury ("by any means necessary"), wave guns and march through town, kissing like crazy in their rainbow tutus and bondage costumery.
    Vapers don't. We are a privileged subculture with a very minor crusade, relatively speaking (think of all the really important issues there are to be passionate about), and it seems to me that all we do is antagonize decent, reasonable people by filling their world with huge plumes of stuff that they don't wish to see, move through or breathe.
This young gent seems to realize that his behavior is problematic.

 The e-cigarette conspiracy: You can't handle the truth!

Safety concerns are obscured by a fragrant cloud of vapor
    (Feb 27, 2014) Volunteers are being recruited through CraigsList and a Bronx "free classifieds" site for a groundbreaking study of e-cigarette safety at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. The stated hypothesis of this study is troubling: E-cigarettes "disorder airway epithelial biology."  It is the airway epithelium that are "central to the pathogenesis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer." Impacts on epithelial gene expression, DNA methylation, telomere length and cilia length will be scrutinized.
    Doesn't this sound a little bit scary?
    Strangely, this research effort is not listed, as it should be, on the web site, even though it was submitted in Dec. 2012 and "verified" in Oct. 2013. It is hidden in an XML file that is clearly not intended for public consumption. I have written to the two researchers who are designated as "contacts," to pose basic questions about the assumptions underlying their inquiry. I have stressed my seriousness in covering this subject thoroughly and responsibly. We have a right to know what they suspect and why. They are being funded by us, through the National Institutes of Health.
    They have not even acknowledged, much less responded to, my repeated overtures.
    This is not an isolated example. Despite urgent calls around the country for more safety information about e-cigarettes, virtually none of the findings from research around the world have been publicized. I think I've figured out why: Both Big Tobacco and anti-smoking/public health officials want e-cigarettes to succeed.
    Disclosure: I love e-cigarettes. I want them to be safe. But all this secrecy makes me very uneasy.

Smoke and mirrors is so passe. Trendy obscurantists prefer vanilla vapor.
    Even those who most ardently oppose smoking of any kind, and who want e-cigarettes to be scrutinized and regulated like tobacco products, acknowledge that e-cigarettes products can save millions of lives. Several top public health officials have urged restraint in the push to demonize e-cigarettes as merely a clever way to perpetuate addiction to nicotine. They fear that over-regulation could stifle an industry that -- however flawed and potentially problematic -- is producing an extremely valuable alternative to tobacco cigarettes.
    I will post an extensive article on e-cigarette safety in a couple of weeks.

Puff the "Magic" Draggin'
The power of blissful, wishful thinking.
    But before that, I will publish "The Great White Hoax," an expose regarding massive deception in the marketing of e-cigarettes as a nicotine-replacement product.
    Stay tuned. This is fascinating stuff. And delicious puff.

E-cig Semantics: If this isn't a smoke-filled room, I don't know what is

       Shit: This is disappointing. The sun finally came out, after weeks of dreary weather (which I actually prefer), and I had my draperies open, to let the light pour in through my floor-to-ceiling windows. I have a beautiful second-story view of sky, mountains and huge pine trees.
    I sat down to work at my computer, with my ever-delightful e-cig as my companion. Ah, that caramel hazelnut flavor inspires such insightful prose. I blow and think. Blow and write. Rinse and repeat. How nice.
    Then, in a moment of struggle to pluck that perfect word out of my jam-packed old brain, I looked up, to gaze at my scenic outdoor panorama.
    The swaths of bright light revealed that I was sitting in a smoke-filled room. I was appalled.
    You say it wasn't smoke, it was "vapor." I know that's the terminology, but it didn't seem all that vaporous to me. It hung in the room, spreading everywhere. It had substance, weight, density.The breeze from our whole-house air cleaner propelled fanciful, slow-dancing plumes here and there, undulating and curling, lilting  and swirling. They had sparkles in them, that seemed to be what is known among we clean-air advocates as "particulates." They weren't in any hurry to go anywhere.
    They weren't behaving like water vapor. I take long, hot showers. I have sat in many a steam room, entertaining the ladies with outrageous, made-up stories about my life (I was a drunk. I gave it up, and am now an inveterate truth-teller). I know the dynamics of vapor. I am basically a Connoisseur of Vapor!
    Steam dissipates, quickly and cleanly. This looked to me like pollution.

    Like many vapers, I have been concerned about the health effects of e-cigs from the start. They have always seemed too good to be true.
    I have already gathered a whole bunch of research data on this issue, which I will be using in an upcoming post. I conveniently repressed all the stuff I read in journal articles about the dangers of vaping, so I wouldn't be obliged to quit for the time being. I really don't remember what I've got in my voluminous notes, but my sense is that the weight of the evidence -- inconclusive and sometimes contradictory though it is -- will be too great for me to rationalize my continued joy in using these products. My lungs, my breathing, my jogging like a rampaging beast through the darkened streets, give me greater joy.
    "You can't handle the truth." That's the state I've been in for seven months. I can't handle it if I want to continue.
    But once I go back to my data, and put it into a reasoned blog post, I plan on handling it. I still hold out a vague hope that the evidence will be so weak, I can dismiss it. I can reassure myself that the polluted air in my city is worse for me, and vacuuming is worse, and stir-frying is worse, and having two cats in the house -- spewing particulate dander -- is worse. Maybe I'll say what the hell, I'm pretty old already, and I smoked tobacco for decades, and I'm doing OK healthwise in spite of that, and I don't have many comforts in my life, so why not give myself this gift?
    It's seeming less like a gift, after the goddam sunshine revealed, in such a graphic, ominous way, what I'm ingesting.
    This is a very sad time for me, so please stop calling every five minutes. I'll call you, once my mourning period is over.

The Big Blow: I misoverestimated my interest

I finally got serious about vaping, and it was too serious for me.
This is what it's come to: An e-cigarette that's so big, and complicated, and requires so much attention and maintenance, that there's no way I can sit back and enjoy it in a relaxed, casual way. It's more akin to a musical instrument or a cumbersome medical device than a simple pleasure. It requires both hands, and both sides of my brain, to keep this damn thing going! I wasn't after a hobby or yet-another household chore when I took up vaping. I didn't want to become a mixologist, or fiddle around with various "components" so I could "tweak" my experience. I didn't want to pimp my vape, or pimp anything else. I object to pimping!  I just wanted a nice puff now and then from a cute little cylinder -- not the equivalent of a didgeridoo!

A piccolo.

A clarinet.
An animal caller with over 50 wild-beast mating sounds.
My newest vape. It didn't attract any wild men, dang it.
     I understand the appeal of experimenting with various "mods" and wattages, or whatever it is you guys are screwing around with so passionately. You are connoisseurs.  You're tinkerers, hackers, mechanics, builders. You probably love the plumbing department at Home Depot. I hate it! I think it's very endearing that you've embraced this new pastime, and that you compare notes the way ladies exchange recipes, and that you engage in endless online dialogues about the whole thing, as if you were plotting the overthrow of the One Percent or devising ways to save the Planet. Couldn't you do that as well? I get the sense that you've got the smarts to figure out almost anything.

It looks like someone's getting ready to torture Jack Bauer!
     I began vaping last August, using a plain little menthol-vanilla Fin that looks like a traditional cigarette. It was great, with a nice draw, delicious taste and ample vapor. But I finally decided to get a more "advanced" apparatus, in order to try all those flavors I was writing about in my new "e-cig journalism career." I was advised to buy a 78mm auto battery, a USB charger for the 808 and a couple of 1 ml clearomizers. 
    I probably just wasn't using it correctly, but it seemed like crap to me. The clearomizer was so small that I couldn't get juice into it without flooding the central cylinder. It made a strangling sound. There wasn't as much vapor, or as nice a draw, as my old WalMart Fins had provided. The clearomizer had to be refilled constantly. The batteries didn't last nearly as long as it took to charge them each day (4-5 hours -- crazy!). I had to really prime those babies to get them to work at all. I sucked and sucked and sucked. Too bad the YouTube people had finally given up on turning my deliberately uneventful life into a reality show. The sucking would have gotten a lot of hits. Even at my advanced age, I am quite suckalicious and blowaluscious. But I was getting frustrated. Vapus interruptus. Can't get no satisfaction. Etc.

    So I decided to get serious, and 'treat" myself by spending $100 on the K201 kit pictured above (I discovered, too late, that online it's $45). It was so pretty! My fantasy was: I am going to have a one hell of a vaping extravaganza, and I'll finally get to really enjoy all these juices I bought online during one manic afternoon. My platter of charming bottles was just sitting there, like the buffet (minus potato salad) awaiting the starving "mourners" after an interminable funeral service.
    But this is not a device you can enjoy casually. Or I can't, anyway. It's so big, and has all those colored lights and numbers and buttons, that it consumes your mind rather than letting it free-flow, the way simpler cigs do. It's not an accompaniment, or a facilitator, or a sweet little enhancement for an interlude of pleasure. It's the Main Event. 
    Our former Dear Leader, George W. Bush, once complained that "Being president is hard work." 
It's hard work to blow so hugely. You could at least make some music while you're at it.
    But so is vaping, and that's not cool with me. You have to Focus on it. Which makes it feel kind of embarrassing, as if it were obsessive-compulsive disorder, rather than an occasional "snack." I'd rather just snort something, or shoot up, and get on with things, than to devote so much attention to the minimally worthwhile activity of blowing butterscotch or chocolate-banana or chai latte out my nose.
    I'm lazy, I guess.
    My $100 green monster, which looks like something a Chinese emperor might have enjoyed (after his minions did all the prep work), is back in its luxurious padded carrying case. It's in my car, so next time I see a poor homeless guy under the viaduct, I can pull over and give it to him, along with all those bottles of juice.
    "It's a peace pipe," I will say. "I bid you peace. Namaste."

Praise the Lord -- I Got Bored. I Quit.

"Just leave me alone, Mr. don't satisfy me at all."
                                                         painting by Viktor Vanetsov
    Pardon the pretentious reference to Shakespeare, but my interest in e-cigarettes "resolved itself into a dew,"  after becoming "weary, stale and flat."  It's now evaporated into one final, parting vapor. I quit!
   As I said in my first and most widely read post about e-cigarettes, I was ambivalent from the start about trying out this delicious and adorable product ( I had quit smoking tobacco 10 years ago. But these new lifestyle enhancers promised to give me back the companionable relaxation I still missed. And they did do that! 
    I was thrilled. I repressed my growing concerns about the long-term safety of e-cigs, and came up with an array of rationalizations that still make real sense to me. But what eventually made the most sense is that I was ever-so-gently being "sucked into" a Habit that felt -- physically and psychologically -- like smoking.

Farewell, my sweet babies!
    I decided that what I was doing was stupid. Not stupid in general, but stupid for me. I don't think vaping is stupid at all if you're comfortable with it. If you enjoy it enough, or need it enough, and especially if it is helping you avoid tobacco, I think it's a perfectly intelligent choice to make. And for seven months, I enjoyed it enough that it was worth whatever risks were involved. 
    I compared it to all the other risks of everyday life: Crossing the street. Eating an apple with pesticide embedded in it. Using turquoise "Ocean Mist" shampoo that seeped untested chemicals straight into my bloodstream, and taking medications whose "mechanism of action" and long-term impacts were "poorly understood," even to the scientists. Ingesting unregulated nutritional supplements that are mostly made in China (how crazy is that?). Just living in a polluted city, and in a house that is unavoidably abounding with dust, dander, aerosolized oils, volatile organic compounds, ozone, sulfur dioxide, methane, and chronically off-gassing carpeting, upholstery, paint and treated wood. We are drenched in chemicals and toxins. Even our water has traces of drugs and birth-control pills in it.

    Shit -- I might as well smoke, or vape, or anything else that tickles my fancy. I am assaulted by Agents of Death everywhere I turn. Why not enjoy one of them?
    That's what I was doing, until I stopped enjoying them. 
    I should have stuck with the Fin brand, which all those vaping connoisseurs regard as totally lame. The menthol version, with a sneaked-in hint of vanilla, was delightful. They were comfortable to hold. They had a nice, smooth draw. No fuss, no muss, no messy dripping or flashy "components." 
A solid, likable product with no cuteness or complexity.
     But in my journalistic coverage of the large and colorful e-cig issue, I became kind of obsessed with what I was missing. All those flavors! The heat, the plumes, the "throat hit"! The fantasy of vaping butterscotch, caramel and espresso started driving me crazy. I had always kind of scoffed at the fruity ones, but when I read some blissed-out descriptions about the splendors of vaporized banana, I added that to my must-have list.
    I plunged into the "scene." I bought a starter kit that was suggested to me by a bearded, middle-aged vape-shop dude: a 78 mm auto battery, four 1 ml clearomisers and a USB charger. I also went a little manic, and ordered about 25 bottles of e-juice online, after reading ecstatic Spinfuel reviews about them.

Oh boy -- The Rapture is about to happen!
    I could hardly wait for the fragrant, blowin'-it-good rhapsody of sensory delights that was headed my way.

    I have to say I was disappointed from the start. That stuff didn't taste like banana to me (and I know my bananas), or chocolate or cinnamon or berries or chai latte, and certainly not like creme brulee or tiramisu. The Emperor had no clothes! I opened one bottle after another, certain that the next one would convert me into a True Believer, but over and over again, there was almost no "there" there.
     I liked the extra strong menthol, and a few that had a hint of hazelnut, but the rest either tasted like not much of anything, or they kind of all began tasting like each other. 

I switched from Fin to a model that had refillable clearomisers.
    Maybe I scrub my tongue too much, and I've swallowed all my taste buds. I am getting pretty senior citizeny, and we doddery, drooling remnants of humanity can lose our sense of taste, along with everything else. So it's probably my fault that the flavors didn't blow me away.
    But on top of the flavor letdown: What a hassle! It seemed as if I were refilling the cartridges about five times a day (sloshing e-juice least I smelled better than I ever had in my life), and it took hours each morning to charge the batteries. The draw wasn't smooth. I had to really prime those babies to get them to work at all. I sucked and sucked and sucked, to get any vapor. I was sitting at my computer, trying to write, and it seemed that most of my attention was consumed by these bratty, slurpy, sticky devices. They weren't comfortable to hold. And where was the fabled heat? Where was the throat hit? I wanted my throat to be hit!

    So I stepped up my game, spending $100 on the K201 kit at my new neighborhood smoke shop ($40 online -- now you tell me) and expecting that maybe now I could finally stop singing "Can't Get No Satisfaction." What a beautiful Green Beast. I didn't think ahead to what it would be like actually to "smoke" such a monster.
The K201: My new era in vaping ecstasy was certainly going to begin any minute!.
    As I recounted in an earlier post, this is not a device you can enjoy casually. Or I can't, anyway. You have to hold on with both hands, like you're playing the clarinet. It's so big, and has all those colored lights and numbers and buttons, that it consumes your mind rather than letting it free-flow, the way simpler cigs do. It's not an accompaniment, or a facilitator, or a sweet little enhancement for an interlude of pleasure. It's the Main Event. You have to Focus on it. Which makes it feel kind of embarrassing, as if it were obsessive-compulsive disorder, rather than a contemplative accompaniment. All that clicking five times, and holding something down (but not for too long, or you get a burned flavor) and then clicking again, and having your puffs tallied up, which made me feel even more idiotic. 
Isn't this darling child too young to be vaping?
    It was too much work, and there was even less enjoyment than I'd gotten from the 78mm model. I put it back in its spiffy carrying case within 15 minutes after trying it, and went back to the slightly more acceptable 78mm for a couple of weeks.
    But it wasn't acceptable enough. Vaping had become a distraction, an aggravation and a chore for me. It was gradually evolving into a mindless habit. It always left me wanting something I wasn't getting. I sat there sucking and blowing, sucking and blowing, like an oversexed bimbo trying to satisfy a need I never had until all that beautifully presented e-cigarette hype promised a swirly, elegant Nirvana of aromatic pleasure.

    One of the first principles of Marketing 101 is to create a need. That's how new products become necessary products. The marketing of e-cigs created a need in me. I had given up smoking a decade ago, but those merchandising whizzes made me want to vape. This new phenomenon was different from smoking. It was beautiful! It was a stylish banquet, and it promised to be one of the few ways I knew of that I could "treat" or "reward" or "comfort" myself, especially since I had forsworn tobacco and booze years ago. It was damned compelling.
    But it didn't work, and I guess I'm relieved. It's a bittersweet feeling: I had really hoped I could enjoy vaping, and justify it to myself, based on good evidence.

    As I have previously written, I think e-cigs are too good to be true. There must be negative health impacts, and I have actually begun to feel them in my lungs. The takeaway from all my research on the safety of these products -- even though it's all inconclusive at this point -- is that they are bad for us. Bad, of course, is so relative in our Big World of Badness, and maybe they aren't Very Bad, even compared to a burger and fries. I don't know. I don't do burgers and fries either. 

Do you want an e-cig with that, or will inhaling dead cow suffice?
    I put about $250 worth of hardware and barely used e-liquids (many unopened) into a tissue-lined boxed and gave it to the guy who cuts my hair once a year. He's from Baghdad, and he was attending university, majoring in theater and performing the works of Shakespeare and other European and American playwrights (isn't that a surprising thought?) , until America stormed in and blew his country to hell. He hated Saddam, but at least Iraq was cultured, safe, prosperous and beautiful at that time. Higher education was free. Once we Liberators had done our thing there, it became a shell-shocked nightmare. So now this dear man is cutting hair in a strip mall in the good old U.S. of A. He does the most skillful work I've ever seen. He is warm, smart and generous. He is not bitter, because "that is not good for the spirit." He and I have a nice bond: We're both atheists and we both pump iron. He is too ascetic to vape, but his girlfriend does. Enjoy, Miranda! 

    Farewell, Candied Cavendish (whatever that is). Have a nice life, Rocket Spice and Mojito, Peanut-Butter Cookie and Blackberry Cream! 
    Godspeed, Spinfuel: Thanks for making me an International Vaping Spokesmodel for a month.
   Now, it's back to carrot strips and Xanax for me. I've tried bruising myself with Beastie Balls, feeling like Princess Diana slicing her thighs with razor blades, to get some relief from anxiety. My arms and chest look pretty shocking -- as if major violence has been done to me -- which is exhilarating, but not very. 

Don't call the cops. I did it to myself. Leave my boyfriend alone.
    I got a cat last weekend. He is splendid, loving, playful, graceful. I adore him. That helps, except that now I'm vaping poop-laden kitty litter. God -- isn't there a better way? Why don't some of you brilliant e-cig entrepreneurs address the kitty-litter issue? Let's spread the genius around, OK?
    Maybe when I get my first Social Security check in a few months, it will sink in that it's time to stop flailing around, trying to find some peace outside myself.
    I doubt it though. I fear I am doomed to be forever unfulfilled, searching for a Magic Cure, preferably one that smells like hazelnut.