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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

What You Should Know About Vaping

The trouble with the literature on nicotine, tobacco, vaping, and smoking cessation is that you can't trust any of it, basically. Sponsor bias taints the vast majority of reports, and the whole subject of smoking is so politicized, so rife with agendas, sacred cows, etc., that it's almost impossible to tell up from down.

An Aspire kit with USB charger, replacement igniters,
and everything else you need, is only about $50.
You'll often read, for example, that there are hidden dangers to vaping. Which is nonsense, as far as I can tell. A Japanese report (from 2014) famously said e-cigs can put out ten times more formaldehyde than regular cigarettes, for example; which turns out to be false. (Read about it here and here.) I've been unable to find any credible evidence whatsoever that vaping is harmful. Certainly, it will be a long time before anyone shows it to be anywhere near as harmful as cigarette smoking.

The main ingredient of vape juice is propylene glycol, which is not to be confused with the much more toxic ethylene glycol (although frankly, ethylene glycol's toxicity is not as great as most people imagine; in poisoning cases, children and animals typically drink many ounces of the stuff, because it tastes so sweet). Propylene glycol is used in asthma inhalers, so the idea that it's going to damage your lungs is somewhat fanciful, to put it mildly.

You'll sometimes hear it said that e-cigs are not proven effective in helping people quit smoking. Not true. One recent literature review found that 18% of e-cig users quit smoking, which is a lot. By comparison, the success rate for nicotine gum is about 8% (barely better than cold-turkey cessation, at 5%), versus the patch at around 12%. The literature on Wellbutrin and Chantix is tainted and thoroughly unreliable, IMHO. Read it if you want. Wellbutrin gave me heart palpitations, and Chantix (which has been implicated in hundreds of suicide attempts) made me go psychotic. I can't recommend the drugs.

The bottom line, as I said in an earlier post, is that a vapor pen (or "e-cig," if you must) is not a direct replacement for a cigarette; your body won't be fooled. If you try to use it that way, you'll be disappointed. If you treat the vape pen as its own special beast, you may very well find it satisfying. I do.

My strong advice is to stay away from the "cigalike" products that look like a cigaret. Invest (instead) $50 to $75 in a decent pen with a rechargeable battery and replaceable heating element. I happen to like the Aspire products, replacement parts for which can be obtained online quite inexpensively.

If you decide to invest in a pen, here's what you need to know.

You'll need e-juice. Juices come in thousands of flavors, and several nicotine grades. If you are (or were) a serious smoker, don't waste time on low-dosage juices. Go for the strongest grade of juice, and if it's too strong (which it won't be), work your way down.

If you're a smoker, you'll probably want to choose an e-juice with lots of "brown notes." Sample a few flavors: tobacco, butterscotch, caramel, etc. (Most vape shops are happy to let you sample as many flavors as you want.) Take home a couple of "dark" flavors and a couple of fruity flavors. You'll know in a day or two which ones you like.

Expect to pay no more than $10 per 15-ml vial. If you're paying more than that, shop around. In L.A., I can buy vape juice on any street corner, often for as little as $5 or $6. One 15-ml vial lasts me a week.

The sweet, caramelly flavors (and some of the menthols, too) tend to gum up, carbonize, and burn out wicks (coils, igniters) quickly, so be sure to ask your juice dealer what the best flavors are for long igniter life. They'll know.

Feel free to mix flavors. I was a menthol smoker, so I often mix menthol e-juice with another flavor. If it turns out you like one of the "heavy" flavors that burns out coils fast, cut it back with a plain-vanilla flavor of some kind. Mix it up. Mix peach and menthol. Add cherry to Rad Bull (a Red Bull taste-alike). Add chocolate-chip cookie-dough flavor (yes, you can buy it) to butterscotch. Find the flavor and nicotine combo that works for you.

Most heating elements (coils, igniters) have some cotton in them; some have a fiber wick. (I don't like wicks. I use the Aspire BVC-style coil, which lasts longer.) After installing a new igniter (which you'll do about once every 5 to 10 days, or whenever the vapor starts to taste skunky), let the juice soak in for a minute or two before drawing your first puff. Otherwise you could burn out the (dry) igniter prematurely. Makes sense, right?

You can get a USB battery charger very inexpensively (under $10), so by all means get a charger and get two batteries, and keep one battery charging on your computer while you use the other one. Nowadays, you can buy a fancy 1600-milliampere-hour battery for $35 that'll last two days or more between charges, but I still prefer to have a pair of less-expensive 900-mah batteries (that last about six hours, each, for me) and switch off between them. That way I can misplace one, use the other, puff until I find the first one, then lose the second one. Repeat until insane.

Vape shops charge a hefty markup on everything, which is why they're oh-so-happy to see you when you walk through the door. My advice? Get used to buying replacement parts online. You'll save 70% or more.

Vape juice feels greasy, but actually contains no oils (it's just glycerine and glycol), which means it'll wash out of fabrics. If your pen ever gets sticky, it'll clean right up with a wet paper towel.

I budget $6 a week for e-juice, $1.50 a week for igniters (a 5-pack costs $8 online), and $25 every two months for a new battery. My former habit (Marlboro Menthols and the occasional clove) used to set me back $7 to $10 a day (and made my clothes stink, my teeth yellow, etc.), so you do the math.

Anti-vapers can say what they want about vaping. To me, there's no question that vape pens are better for you than cigarettes, and the whole argument about whether vaping is a "proven effective" way to quit smoking is a bit moot, because consumers have voted with their wallets (and purses), and the verdict is in: Vaping is here to stay, in a big way.

A big thank-you to all the great people who retweeted me yesterday: 

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