My switch to electronic cigarettes

thumb e-cigWEBNon-smokers used to ask me if my fingertips were burned.

"Nope," I'd say, "they're nicotine stains."

Enter the annoying lectures from them that smoking would kill me one day. Not this again, I thought to myself. 

Even though I'd reply with a snide remark like, "Thanks, Mom (or Dad)," I knew they were right. Lung cancer is in my family history. 

But nicotine isn't an easy addiction to give up. Being greeted every morning with phlegm in my lungs didn't make me stop.

I've been a pack-a-day smoker for more than eight years. I've had three unsuccessful quitting attempts and have burned enough money to buy a brand new car. The good news is I'm starting to think that those days are gone for sure this time.

I wanted to give the electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) a try for about a year, but was waiting for the right time.

So with having a small respite from work recently, I placed an order online for an e-cigarette kit and some e-juice, or e-liquid, which contains nicotine but is puffed through the electronic cigarette with only a vapour – and no actual smoke – being emitted. e-juiceE-juice contains nicotine but is puffed through the cigarette with only a vapour being emitted and no smoke.

Photo by: Shane Flug.

I started using it immediately. After opening the package and having that first puff of vapour, it felt different compared to going cold turkey or using the gum. After the first few days, it didn't feel like I was missing anything because the sensation of smoking was still there and I still got my fix.

I'm proud to report that I didn't touch tobacco for the first three weeks after my e-cigarette arrived in the beginning of September. However, I did temporarily relapse when I ran out of e-juice and was waiting for more. I couldn't take it anymore while waiting for my next supply to arrive.

But the one positive that came out of my slip was that they tasted terrible and it became a struggle to finish all the way to the butt.

Feeling better

Alberta Health Services says that it generally takes two weeks to three months after quitting smoking for the lungs to regain their efficiency. I'm already feeling I can breathe much easier.

Tightness in the chest during physical activity is still there but not as bad as before. And yes, the morning coughing is gone.

This all sounds swell but propylene glycol, one ingredient in e-juice, can irritate people's respiratory tracts (throats), according to the propylene glycol's Material Safety Data Sheet. I feel dryness in my throat sometimes.

Ultimately, using an e-cigarette doesn't change the fact that I'm still a nicotine addict. My motive for switching was harm reduction.e-cigWEBElectronic cigarettes aren't the end of my smoking habit and the negative health effects it brings, but rather a means of harm reduction.

Photo by: Christine Ramos. 

Although e-juice is not approved by Health Canada, after doing my own consumer research, I have faith that just a handful of vapourized chemicals in the e-cigarette have got to be less harmful than the 4,000 that are combusted in tobacco cigarettes, with about 70 of them being carcinogenic, according to Health Canada.

Am I just switching to a lesser evil? Sure.

Am I still playing with fire in regards to my own health? Absolutely.

Because these things are relatively new, I'm entering uncharted territory in terms of what the long-term effects of using these may be.

But with snuffing out tobacco and switching to the e-cigarette, my body is starting to tell me that I might have a smaller chance now of getting burned. 

The regulatory status of e-juice 

Because e-juice contains nicotine, Health Canada forbids it to be sold here without proper establishment licensing.

Health Canada spokesperson Gary Holub said in an email that while his agency has no problems with the non-nicotine forms of e-cigarettes, those with nicotine or "with health claims" can't be sold in Canada because the products have not "received the necessary market authorization from Health Canada."

"These products are subject to the Food and Drugs Act," he said.

E-juice with nicotine requires market authorization as a drug, he says, whereas e-cigarettes without nicotine aren't subject under the act and don't need authorization from the public body to be sold in Canada.

But of both types he said: "To date, no sponsor has demonstrated the safety, quality and efficacy of an e-cigarette product to Health Canada. In the absence of scientific evidence, Health Canada doesn't recommend the use of electronic cigarettes."

He also cited concern of nicotine-poisoning risks if e-juice is spilled on the skin during cartridge refilling.

Kat, a member of an online e-cigarette vendor (that sells nicotine e-juice) who would not share her last name because of Health Canada currently taking a "very aggressive stand" against such vendors, said the idea for a store came after she said she had seen a lot of success stories with her own family who successfully quit smoking with the e-cigarette.

Kat worries that if a vendor such as hers was to be unable to continue selling e-juice with nicotine, people being cut off from the product could potentially "relapse" and go back to tobacco smoking.

sflug@cjournal.ca 

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