Friday, May 24, 2013

How I quit smoking

Location: Salt Lake City, UT, USA

April of 2011 I quit smoking.  I had quit before around 2004, with the help of Zyban (also known as Wellbutrin), but after going through a period of my life with a lot of stress, I had started again in 2006.  I can proudly say that since April '11 I have tried one cigarette, and the taste was so disgusting that I put it out after a few drags.  I haven't had the slightest inkling to try one since.

I loved smoking.  I certainly was addicted, immensely so, but beyond that I was in love with the act of smoking.  At any point in my day when I was bored I could have a cigarette, and ten minutes would be filled with addictive pleasure.  It provided an oral fixation as well as something to do with my hands.  I also love old fashioned things, trinkets; my zippos and cigarette cases were things I proudly carried and used regularly, long ago having become part of my personal style.  On the psychological front, smoking is a way to instantly differentiate myself from the average straight laced Mormon, and growing up and living in Utah, there is value in such a display.

The key to me quitting was being able to do so without giving up the things I loved about smoking.  I started using an E-Cigarette.  I hadn't planned on quitting smoking entirely.  I had an idea in my head that I would use the e-cigarette most of the time, but still enjoy a real cigarette once a week or so.  But once I had become accustom to the e-cigarette I just lost my desire to smoke.  There was simply no need when the e-cigarette took care of all the things I loved about smoking, and contained none of the drawbacks.

To those who are not aware of e-cigarettes, or those who have been caught up in all of the misinformation which surrounded them when they first became available, I will give you a quick rundown.  An e-cigarette consists of two primary components, a battery, and something which is called an atomizer.  An atomizer is a fancy word to describe a group of devices which break a liquid into a fine mist (atom in the classical sense).  Inhalers are a type of atomizer.  They work in many different ways, but in an e-cigarette the atomizer contains a small heating coil which literally works to make steam.  There are two styles of atomizers.  The more popular ones are built into a cartridge which holds the e-juice, the other style uses an atomizer that is surrounded by a mesh, designed to drip e-juice on directly.

The key to an e-cigarette, of course, is the e-juice, which is a mixture of nicotine with a base and sometimes flavoring.  E-cigarettes work by vaporizing e-juice, or more accurately, by steaming it with the heat coming from the atomizer.  The base used in e-juice is typically propylene glycol, a substance commonly used as a base for medicine and food (it's used in nebulizing inhalers).  Some people are allergic to propylene glycol, so sometimes vegetable glycol will be used instead.  Nicotine is a poison, produced by the tobacco plant to deter insects.  It is the active ingredient in cigarettes, the substance you become addicted to.  In small doses, with a built up tolerance (addiction), it is a relatively safe substance.  It causes an increase in heart rate similar to the effects of caffeine.  Usually a flavoring agent is added to the mixture.  My go-to flavor is Chocolate-Vanilla-Hazelnut, but there are literally thousands of flavors made by different companies.

The choice between different types and brands of e-cigarettes is such a personal thing, but I will tell my own experience and hope that it is enlightening.

I started out buying an e-cigarette package from a local smoke shop.  The brand was Smoke 51, designed to work with cartridges.   They advertised a cartridge as being equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, with 5 cartridges costing about $12.  I used this for two to three months, and was satisfied, but I did have two complaints, the cartridges would leak e-juice on my lips and it tasted disgusting, and I also found them to be imprecise, the way they wick the juice to the atomizer meant that toward the end of their life the cartridges started to give off wispy draws that were unsatisfying, even though the cartridge still contained a lot of juice.  Also the batteries tended to last me 6-8 hours.

To deal with the short battery life I bought a much cheaper unit from the corner store as a backup (I don't recall the brand).  This brand had a different design, using a separate atomizer and cartridge.  The atomizer was a drip atomizer with a wire mesh, and the cartridge was designed to fit on it and wick to the mesh.  After a few days of using the cartridges I got tired of the same issues with juice leaking into my mouth and started using this e-cigarette as a drip atomizer instead of using the cartridges.  It worked very well, and I was much much more satisfied with this setup.  I put away my Smoke 51 unit and never picked it back up.

I liked dripping onto my new e-cig, but the one I had gotten was as cheap as they get.  It only held a charge for 4-6 hours, and the thing was crooked when you screwed the atty on the battery.  Armed with the experience I had gained from vaping for nearly six months, I went online to find solutions to my previous complaints about my e-cigarette experience.  I found a company called Volcano E-Cigarettes, which seemed highly recommended, and had a very active forums where their customers had built quite a neat little community.  The product which drew me was a well crafted version of the typical e-cig you find, but came with two of them, along with a handy carrying case which also acted as a charger, holding enough juice to recharge both batteries a few times.  I went with a cartridge like option, a clear tube which held a large volume of e-juice but I switched back to using a drip atomizer when I had issues with the tanks leaking.

After using this portable charging case which they called the Magma, I was sold, and began trying their different flavors, eventually hitting on the Choconilla-haze, which I have used exclusively for over a year now.  I also became intrigued with a more high end e-cig which Volcano was selling, more appropriately referred to as a cigar due to its oversized battery, called Inferno.  The inferno came in two styles, a larger battery, and a smaller battery that can charge via USB while in use, both styles came in the starter kit.  I quickly gave away the larger battery as I found that the USB pass-through battery was enough to last through a long day, and was convenient to keep plugged in while at my desk using it.  After using the Inferno for a few months I gave away all my other e-cigs and got a second Inferno battery as a backup.  I continue to use the Inferno to this day.

Volcano recently came out with a new e-cigarette named LavaTube.  It is much larger than the inferno, and much much larger than a typical e-cigarette.  It uses a removable battery and has variable voltage, along with improvements under the hood.  The variable voltage means that you can adjust how dense or 'hot' the draw will be.  I tend to run mine at 3.8 volts.  The removable batteries means that I can buy a number of them (I have 4) and charge two at a time in a separate charger.  I can go backpacking for 4-7 days without needing to recharge this way.  I use my LavaTube mostly at my desk, as it is a little large to carry in my shirt pocket, and I carry the Inferno out and about with me.

There are lots of different companies out there making cool e-cigarettes.  So Volcano is not the only game in town, and I encourage you to go see what's available.  I can say that with the few problems I have had (one unit that failed after a few months, and one shipment of the wrong flavor of juice), they were quick to correct the issues and very easy to deal with.  I have placed maybe thirty or so orders with them in the past 2 years.

And last, if you made it this far, you are likely committed to quitting smoking.  I want to explain a difference between the nicotine you get in a cigarette, and what you get with pure nicotine, like that found in e-juice.  Cigarette manufacturers use a chemical process to change nicotine in cigarettes so that it is absorbed into your blood stream much faster than it would naturally.  Because of this, cigarette smokers are trained to the immediate response (the fix) that smoking gives.  Pure nicotine can take 5-10 minutes to fully absorb into the bloodstream, and as such, transitioning from cigarettes to e-juice can be less satisfying than people may expect.  Cigarettes are a game of rewarding a desire, e-cigarettes are more about establishing a constant level of nicotine in your system.  By the time you crave a cigarette, it is too late to get a quick cure with an e-cigarette.  Instead, you will need to get used to using the e-cigarette maintenance, regularly using it to maintain the level which you are accustomed to.

In closing, I know a lot has been brought up about the health risks of e-cigarettes, so I thought I should address this, as I have done extensive research on the subject.  The medical science on nicotine and propylene glycol is fairly extensive and both substances are safe as they are intended to be used in e-cigarettes.  The flavoring used is typically USDA grade and food-safe.  However there is one big warning here.  KNOW WHERE YOU GET YOUR E-JUICE FROM.  Buy from a non-name/fly-by-night operation and you have no idea what they put in there.  Buy from a reputable source where you can confirm the ingredients and methods used in preparation, this is very important.  This is another reason I went with Volcano, who have a large brick-and-mortar business located in the US, employing food-safe laboratories and methods.  The same can be said for hardware, such as batteries and atomizers.  Batteries can malfunction, and parts can be made with toxic substances.  Again, ensure you are purchasing from a reputable manufacturer who care about what goes into their products.

Since quitting smoking, and taking up the e-cigarette I feel great, I don't stink all the time, and I expect to be around a lot longer!  If you have any questions for me leave them in the comments!

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