“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” I hear all the time these days. As soon as the LED light begins to flash and clouds of smoke-like vapour fill the air around me, an interested somebody comes over to enquire. Is that a real cigarette?
No, I say sagely, its electronic. To add credibility to my words I begin to unscrew the battery from the atomiser. Look, I say, brandishing a piece in each hand. This is the battery and this is the heating element to vaporise the nicotine solution. Babies and cute pets beware, the electronic cigarette is here! The crowds are mesmerised.
The invention is Hon Lik’s, a Chinese pharmacist and lifelong smoker. Seeing his father die of lung cancer, Lik decided to create a smoking alternative in the electronic cigarette. Its popularity proved to be not only in the delivery of nicotine, a market already heavy with gum and patch products, but to replicate the habit of drawing on and blowing out smoke from a little stick. Flavoured nicotine solutions proved to be a hit as well. I switched from coffee to apple this morning.
One of its most liberating features is the ability to smoke anywhere. So far I have puffed on it in bars, restaurants, cinema and last week on an aeroplane. Sure, I tried to blow the vapour in the corner and discreetly, as everyone has such little patience for unordinary behaviour on flights these days. Triumphantly I puffed out e-smoke in-between sentences delivering a lecture to some jealous Eastern Europeans.
Is it safe? Hard to say for sure. All sorts of studies and investigations differ on this issue. The key ingredient in the liquid vaporised by the smoker is propylene glycol (C3H8O2 or HO-CH2-CHOH-CH3). Otherwise used in pharmaceuticals, as a food additive, in toothpaste and shampoo and those disco smoke machines. It’s labelled safe for internal consumption, digestion. However, we have not been inhaling it frequently or in copious amounts on a long enough basis to know the side effects or health risks. Tobacco smoking was recommended for a hundred years before disease and health studies showed otherwise. In my unqualified opinion, it is probably better than smoking the traditional fag. And cheaper too.
And so, three weeks into the experiment, I’m still vaporising. Everyday, many times a day, I puff on my atomiser and light up the room with a blinking LED. I haven’t wanted a cigarette simply because my body is full of nicotine and my hands are constantly busy twirling this device. It hasn’t been tough. Surprisingly.