e-cigarettes for dummies
January 16, 2014 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of going down the e-cigarette route, but I've got a few questions I'm not sure about, in brief: 1) Is there any research out there on their effects on your health? I get that it's early days, and they've got to better than smoking, but are there side effects/dangers that I should be aware of? 2) Is there much difference between a cheap one I can buy at the supermarket, compared to an expensive one I buy on the internet? 3) What have your experiences been like with them? Is it difficult to make the jump from normal cigarettes?

A bit more about me: I've been smoking for about 5 years now, but since I've started working in a hospital I think it's time to stop. I'd probably smoke about 5 a day if left to my own devices, and that number goes up a lot if I have a few drinks. I'm using nicotine gum at the moment to get me through the day, but I still have a cigarette or two in the evening. I smoke golden virginia tobacco which I roll, and I don't really like flavoured tobacco or menthols. Oh, and I'm in England, so I don't know if all the brands will be the same here, but any advice is appreciated, thanks.
posted by Ned G to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I made the switch and have watched a few others make it, too. I'm at work but I'll try to get some knowledge out quickly:

When I was starting out, I was determined to get the 'cig-alike' style, despite the more experienced 'vapers' telling me that I should just skip ahead to the big boys (something like a Joyetech Kanger Twist with Kanger EVOD (not even close to the biggest of the big boys, actually)). Now I'm that guy with a handful of cig-alikes that he never uses and wishes, for frugality, that he could have never gone that route, but maybe it was a necessary step. I'm not sure.

The bigger ones are more productive (in terms of vapor, flavor, and nicotine) and satisfying, so it might be a good idea while you quit. You may think that you want something as small and as light as a cigarette, but the problem there is that they are like sucking a marble through a straw for a tiny dusty puff of barely anything, and the battery will die/atomizer will run dry before the day is up.

Anyhow, if you are stubborn like me and start with the little guys that are nearly the size of cigarettes, and you feel very unsatisfied, don't forget that the big ones exist. I mentioned a good brand combo above that has worked great for me and I still use.
posted by destructive cactus at 3:18 PM on January 16

I made the switch to vaping almost a year ago and never looked back. The supermarket ecigs "cigalikes" are wayyyy different, less customizable and more expensive (in the long run).
Some good sites for product reviews and getting started are the infamous Phil Busardo and research-wise would be CASAA. They are up to date on research and advocacy.
I learned most of what I know from a local vape shop and further on e-cig forum site.

I currently use an iTaste MVP with Kanger Protanks and highly recommend it. I started with an ego twist and kanger evods and still use that set up as well. There is a learning curve and it takes a while to find the right juices.

I feel much better vaping vegatable glycerin and organic flavorings than I did smoking 200+ chemicals. I can breathe now.
posted by KogeLiz at 3:54 PM on January 16

The research on the health effects of e-cigarettes is not sufficiently broad or deep to make confident statements one way or the other. I can't comment on your other questions, but that first issue is quite clear.
posted by OrangeDisk at 3:54 PM on January 16

Fwiw, a long-time smoker in my family uses PUFF and is off cigarets totally (6 months success). It's a brand of ecigs and is refillable at several levels of nicotine as your need may be.
posted by Lornalulu at 3:56 PM on January 16

My son keeps trying his e-cig. But, he keeps lighting-up, too. He's having a really difficult time getting past the whole routine of smoking, and that dragging on an e-cig isn't quite the same experience as dragging on a real cig. Having never smoked, I'll take his word on it.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:57 PM on January 16

I haven't made the leap, myself, but that's because I initially tried the gas station e-cigs, and they just didn't cut it. My friends who went for the big hardware are nearly proselytizing their virtue... although they took a bit of tinkering to get the equipment to stop leaking. I believe the e-cig forum site linked above was all the resource they required.
What they did need to adjust to was the dosage curve of e-cigs, which, like patches, is much more gradual than a good couple drags on a cigarette. Basically, you have to stay ahead of your need schedule, as the e-cigs seem to take more to hit the nicotine satiation point, depending on the concentration of liquid you're vaping.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 4:51 PM on January 16

Speaking as someone who smoked for a LONG time, and quit twice . . . .

the first time I quit I used a gradualism method like e-cigarettes. I stopped smoking for 3 years, then went back to being a full bore smoker.

the second time was excruciating -- my Bear and I quit cold turkey after a one week long cessation program. It was awful. And that was so effective -- I have never wanted to smoke again because I never, ever want to have to go through quitting again. And it has been more than 20 years now since I've smoked.

My strong advice is to quit cold turkey and really experience the pain and suffering. You'd be amazed how well that works.
posted by bearwife at 5:02 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]

OrangeDisk: "I can't comment on your other questions, but that first issue is quite clear."

From your link: "Whether e-cigarettes caused these reported adverse events is unknown."


I used to believe, as you seem to, that e-cigs were healthwise little different than cigarettes... but there is a body of evidence, admittedly short-term, to suggest that many of the harmful side effects were tied to the smoke particles, and not merely nicotine itself.

However, since tobacco chewers often get mouth cancers, clearly the answer is not "no fire = no risk".
posted by IAmBroom at 5:54 PM on January 16

bearwife: "My strong advice is to quit cold turkey and really experience the pain and suffering. You'd be amazed how well that works."

A study of longterm (5-year+) recovered addicts of various addictions (nicotine, alcohol, IV drugs, etc) found the only strongly correlated factor was a memory of a point at which the addict said, "No more!". They may even have fallen backwards after that, but count that moment as a watershed.

IOW: YMMV. Your way will work for some; others will find 12-Step useful; others will try and fail at both, but patches will work... and most will probably smoke until dead.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:58 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

JAMA recently had a whole issue devoted to the 50th anniversary of the surgeon general's warning on the health risks of smoking, including a very brief discussion of e-cigarettes. See: here
posted by alygator at 7:16 PM on January 16

1) As you say, it's early days. But people who have actually studied the liquid and the vapour produced are very optimistic.
By the standards of occupational hygiene, current data do not indicate that exposures to [eCig users] from contaminants in
electronic cigarettes warrant a concern. There are no known toxicological synergies among compounds in the aerosol,
and mixture of the contaminants does not pose a risk to health. However, exposure of [users] to propylene glycol and
glycerin reaches the levels at which, if one were considering the exposure in connection with a workplace setting, it
would be prudent to scrutinize the health of exposed individuals and examine how exposures could be reduced...[T]here is sufficient evidence to be reassured that there are no such risks from the broad
range of the studied products.

2. Little ones that look like cigarettes are like a cheap version of virtually anything; a good proof-of-concept. But ultimately are rarely good enough. I've started seeing NJoy Kings in corner shops, I've read that those are quite good for what they are if you want to try one. I tried the Vype brand and didn't like it much at all.

3. It was easy for me. I puffed away quite a bit from the word go. I lived in a nonsmoking house, so I had to go outside in the cold and rain to smoke. I think on the first day I dropped from 20 to 5 real cigs without even thinking about it. About 3-4 days later I had my first smoke-free day without even really thinking about it. I think mindset has a lot to do with it. That is, if you want to like it and are willing to make little sacrifices (less robust flavour, battery charging, pushing through an occasional craving for 5 minutes) it's easy. Like switching from Coke to diet Coke, or meat to Quorn. And after more than 5 years I have no health complaints.

UK forums are here and here. Popular online vendors include Cloud9, UKEcigstore, Liberty Flights. If I were starting today I'd probably choose the Kanger eSmart or EVOD. Or this which is what I actually use. 18mg is the most popular strength for e-liquid, but some prefer stronger or weaker. Flavour preference is very much down to the individual. Most people end up trying several, and are often surprised by what they like and what they don't.
posted by K.P. at 2:26 AM on January 17

I quit smoking by just. . .quitting, so I have no personal experience with using e-cigs to stop smoking. The two people I know who tried them to quit smoking have made no progress in quitting the e-cigs, although both stopped smoking paper cigs within a few days.

I first tried e-cigs at least two years after I had quit smoking. Although I found the e-cig very appealing in terms of ritual and gesture, they were a little weird tasting (I only tried three flavors and don't recall what they were). Plus, they are not as much fun because you can't make smoke rings or smoke soap bubbles.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:18 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

UK vaper here, I can only offer my own experience.

(Incidentally - you absolutely can blow smoke rings etc, a nonsmoker friend of mine borrows a vaper and zero-nicotine juice to do exactly this, whenever he visits! Also, yes the "tobacco" flavours are nothing like burnt leaves. Go with fruit or menthol.)

I was a very heavy smoker (40+ / day) for 20 years or so. Never thought I'd quit. Frankly enjoyed smoking (although not so much the teeth/smell/ash/having to go outside/rain in the ears when opening the car window etc).

Eventually had a small health scare that made me think seriously about quitting, or at least going with some kind of alternative.

I had a poor experience with e-cigs several years ago, but someone at work had one that looked good and she was very enthusiastic so I looked into it and discovered they've come a LONG way.

As so many people do, I started with the little "cig-alike" and quickly discovered it was a faff, and didn't work very well, and needed constant attention. I "upgraded" to a Tornado Tank (510) which you fill in the morning and then forget for the day. (Even for me!!) Very little faff (although I quite enjoy mixing my own juice, buying fancy batteries and stuff) and - this is the crucial bit - it absolutely fulfils my "smoking" requirements.

The hard bit for me was not kicking the nicotine but the whole smoking ritual - hand to mouth, something to fiddle with, throat hit of a drag, blowing out a plume of "smoke" etc. Those were the things I liked. The vape ticks every one of those boxes. People praise me for quitting smoking but I honestly feel like a fraud - my brain has no idea I've quit. It was quite literally zero effort.

Extra benefits - "smoking" in the house, no going out in the rain; no longer inflicting second hand smoke on my pets and loved ones; house/car/clothes no longer smell; teeth/gums vastly happier & much easier to maintain healthy; lungs somewhat happier (I think permanent damage in there, but no more smoker's cough); VAST monetary savings, even with my intemperance on vaping shopping sites; you still get to go out to the smoking shed (or whatever) if you're someone who likes the five minute break/alone time..

I expect there will be occasional waves of hysteria about unexpected vaping dangers, hopefully followed by actual studies and a growing body of data. I assume vaping has some dangers and side effects but it is - no question, cannot argue - better than smoking cigarettes, which is absolutely what I would otherwise be doing. I do not particularly view vaping as a pathway to quitting - I like doing this and will continue. I don't see a reason to stop. I'm addicted to caffeine, too. So?

I become quite cross when I see the various pearl-clutching campaigns against vaping and the assorted policies which equate it exactly with smoking. I also get cross about tobacco companies trying to squash it (which makes no sense to me! Why not just jump on the bandwagon?) However, for the moment it's still legal and I recommend!

Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss more.
posted by Ilira at 7:26 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]

To answer your first question, there have been two studies both very small and inconclusive. The first study (may have) found some lung function impairment but it remains controversial if the (again, limited) results have any overriding clinical significance. The second study (again, limited) demonstrated that e-cigarettes do not harm one of the same types of cardiac function that smoking does. There was also a very minor and somewhat unscientific study of the content of the vapor exhaled (analogous to second hand smoke in this context even though it's water vapor) that showed no significant concentration of harmful chemicals, but I can't seem to find it now.

So the tl;dr version is: the jury is still out on whether or not e-cigarettes themselves are harmful. However, they are highly likely by their nature to be LESS harmful to the smoker and those around the smoker than actual burning tobacco. The only single thing we know with 100% certainty is that e-cigs do not stink up your clothes, hair or general environment.

In regards to your second question, there are good suggestions above for gear above. The one thing people aren't mentioning is that you vape differently than you smoke: you must draw long and slow on an e-cig, more like you would certain other things people might smoke, than you do on a regular cigarette where the draw tends to be short and sharp. That makes a big difference.

The other thing if you go experimenting to keep in mind is that there are three main pleasure factors (the functionality and form-factor of the actual e-cig aside) that determine a vaper's pleasure: vapor production (how much "smoke" comes out), throat hit (the intensity and type of physical sensation of inhaling the vapor) and flavor, the latter often requiring a lot of research as there are so many flavors. Flavor you will get if you buy quality, European or American juices, but there is an intrinsic trade off between vapor production and throat hit, and you'll have to find the happy medium on your own. I would suggest getting a tank based system (more vapor, less throat hit) and a clear/cartomizer system (more throat hit, less vapor) and see which one you favor. Ease of drawing on the e-cig can be very personal as well, but usually you can control that by matching your electronics properly and replacing them when you should.

You'll also need to brush up on your elementary electronics to understand how to match ohms to impedance.

So, if I haven't completely scared you off, I would strongly (but politely) disagree with the cold turkey folks above. Not only has this not been the main focus of addiction treatment for, oh, 25 years, it completely ignores the more successful and prevalent model of harm reduction.

And I will add my anecdote: I switch to e-cigs by accident. I was a smoker for 25 years, two packs a day for much of that. One day about two and a half years ago I went to get a couple packs of Parliament Lights (yes, I lived in NYC at the time) and spotted a disposable two pack e-cig thing and bought it, as my friend Joey from Jersey would say, "for a goof." Got it home, opened it and tried it out, and it didn't seem to be working so I hit YouTube and searched for e-cigs and by fate the top hit was how to "smoke" an e-cig with Some Random Dude explaining how you inhale it differently than a cigarette. Ok cool, it worked then just fine. The next thing I know, I've been working my ass off at my computer in my smoking room for two hours straight and I haven't opened a the pack of smokes I bought. I didn't even notice. I had quit so very many times with the patch, gum, cold turkey (three times) and Carr's book. I had not in a quarter century been both awake and unaware that I needed a "real" cigarette.

The kicker is that I've been drunk four or five times in the last few years and decided to have a "real" smoke. It was...ok at first but I usually stub them out after the first couple of hits. The main thing here is that in the times when I'd been quit, it only took one puff of one cigarette to draw me back in. Not anymore, not at all.

Feel free to contact me too.

Obligatory link to the online shop I use in NL that also ships to UK who have fantastic customer service and always the newest products. Having a reliable vendor is VERY important.
posted by digitalprimate at 7:37 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]

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