Exploring the new market of electronic cigarettes
By Andrew Lindsay
It was obvious from the metallic sheen that reflected the porch light that it wasn’t a regular cigarette. A stream of smoke came out when he exhaled, though, nearly perfecting the deception. It was an electronic cigarette, he told me, introducing himself as Jordan. My friend Sergio had told me about them in the office of our summer job, but I’d never seen one. With enthusiasm, Sergio recited how advantageous they were and how awesome his friend’s was because it had a blue “flame” that “burned” brighter when the person took a drag, just like a real cigarette. The electronic cigarette did, in fact, do this. It even emulated the scratchy sensation you get in the back of your throat from a real cigarette, which was only a matter of preference, Jordan told me.
He demonstrated how it actually worked, unscrewing the battery, which was the faux-paper part of it, and pointed to where he plugged it into the charger, which aptly looked like a pack of cigarettes. With it disassembled, he then produced a little bottle similar to eye drops, which was the nicotine liquid. He dropped a few drops onto the faux-filter, put it back together and offered me a drag.
It felt, tasted and looked like any real cigarette I’d ever tried. It even had a citrusy tang.
There’s no indication as to when you’ve inhaled the equivalent of one cigarette’s worth of nicotine. So while you don’t have to worry about “finishing,” and you could potentially just puff away all day if need be, you risk progressively smoking more and more than you normally might, which would increase your addiction to nicotine.
Sergio told me about how e-cigs were apparently so much better for your health because they’re smokeless. Elektro Cigarettes, an e-cig company based out of Chicago, explains on their website that the nicotine is vaporized, similar to an inhaler, instead of combusting it like in traditional tobacco. Without smoke, the company claims, there’s no tar or other carcinogens produced by tobacco. The “smoke” that you inhale and exhale is actually just the vapor that contains the nicotine. The vapor is odorless and non-flammable.
It’s also cheap. One cartridge, the faux-filter part, pending on who’s being asked about what brand, is the equivalent of between one or two packs of cigarettes. Elektro cartridges, the brand sold at C&C Tobacco Outlet in Ithaca, sell online at about $20 for five cartridges. Certain brands and models of e-cigs use a bottle of nicotine liquid, like Jordan had, which are about $4 per bottle. The bottles come in different sizes but typically are the equivalent of one pack. Each pack of cartridges or bottles of liquid come in different nicotine levels, ranging from lowest (zero mg) to low (four mg) to middle (eight mg) to high (16 mg). That’s about $4 for at least a pack of cigarettes. However, the cheapest “starter pack” that Elektro offers is $70, and it comes with two cartridges. If the cheapest pack of regular cigarettes costs at minimum $9, it would take about six more cartridges or bottles of nicotine fluid before the cost evens out with its combustible counterpart. For occasional smokers, this could be about a semester’s worth of nicotine fixes. For someone who smokes a pack a day, this is roughly a week’s worth.
“They’re very popular,” an employee at C&C Tobacco said. “A lot of people use them to quit.” So far, no customers have had any complaints or dissatisfaction, she also said.
So they’re cheaper if you’re a regular smoker, they are just as satisfying, they are in fact odorless, but are they really safer? Truth be told, no companies have submitted their products to the FDA for evaluation of the product’s safety or effectiveness. If they are safer, why don’t the companies prove it by submitting to these evaluations by the FDA?
Unofficially, however, on July 22, 2009, the FDA released a non-comprehensive laboratory study on some samples of electronic cigarettes and components from two leading electronic cigarette brands: Smoking Everywhere and Njoy. This was not a full study, which the Electronic Cigarette Association was quick to point out, saying it was very narrow in its focus. The FDA does concede that the study shouldn’t be used to conclude what substances may or may not be in a particular brand of electronic cigarette, other than the brands studied. Nonetheless, the results of each of the nicotine levels being sold in each of the flavors did indeed have detectable levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, which users may be exposed to. Certain tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which are human carcinogens, were detected in half of the samples tested. Additionally, tobacco-specific impurities suspected of being harmful to humans (anabasine, myosmine and nicotyrine) were detected in a majority of the samples tested.
The FDA also claimed that quality control was either very poor or non-existent. Different nicotine levels existed in each puff, which might sound scary, but there’s going to be more nicotine in a long drag as opposed to a short drag when you really think about it. However, the cartridges labeled as having no nicotine did indeed result in having low levels.
Are electronic cigarettes healthier? Answer: inconclusive. However, they are cheaper in the long run. They don’t produce secondhand smoke, which means they pass the Clean Air Act and can be smoked anywhere (even in airports). There’s no need for ashtrays anymore. They’re non-flammable. They replicate the smoking experience perfectly. This could potentially be the fall of Big Tobacco, as they face a real alternative to smoking.
Andrew Lindsay is a sophomore writing major who still thinks the Black Smoke Monster from Lost is JoeCamel. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.