My views on tobacco and nicotine consumer issues, nanny state policies, Libertarian viewpoints, harm reduction, electronic cigarettes, snus, Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, Smokefree Wisconsin and other random topics that pop up.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
A Five Year Journey
As of today, I haven't smoked a cigarette in five years.
But I didn't set out to quit smoking. I became what is known as an "accidental quitter" when I switched to using an electronic cigarette. Before I tried one, I was resigned to being a smoker until I died.
As I reported in my very first article about e-cigarettes in 2009, "Negative Reactions Mystify Electronic Cigarette Owners," my husband and I bought our first electronic cigarettes from a booth at the state fair -- on a lark. The sales pitch that sold us was that the devices were less expensive than conventional cigarettes, didn't contain the tar and smoke that increase the risk of "smoking-related" diseases and could be used where smoking would soon be prohibited in my state. We spent over $200 on two kits. Note that although we'd tried quitting many times before (and I had quit during every pregnancy and while nursing), we did not buy the e-cigarettes to use as an alternative to quitting smoking with gums or patches. We weren't looking for a way to quit smoking. We bought them as a safer, less expensive and more convenient substitute for conventional cigarettes. It's important to understand that e-cigarettes are not for people who are trying to quit smoking -- they are for those who cannot or will not quit, so they need a safer alternative. Like condoms are for safer sex, e-cigarettes are for safer "smoking."
E-cigarettes have changed considerably since 2009
The devices we first purchased were "cigarette-like." They were about the same size as a conventional cigarette, white with a tan "filter" cartridge and had an orange LED that lit at the tip. While we were told that a single cartridge of nicotine solution was equivalent to more than a pack of conventional cigarettes, we soon found out that they didn't last long at all and came with all kinds of problems, such as faulty atomizers (heating element) and producing pathetic wisps of vapor. Additionally, the "cigarette flavor" I had expected turned out to be more like a slightly sweet, raw tobacco flavor. It didn't taste like smoking and only made me miss "the real thing." It's like craving your favorite mocha latte from Starbucks and getting a cup of watery instant coffee instead.
Because the tobacco flavoring was artificial, I thought maybe there were other flavors I may like -- flavors that wouldn't cause me to crave smoking. So I went online to see what was available. Apparently, other early adopters were having the same issues. There were forums filled with topics dedicated to improving battery life, improving vapor production and finding more appealing flavors. Members of these forums were nearly all long-time, middle-aged smokers.
Contrary to claims being made in the media by some politicians and health advocates, the so-called "candy flavors" made for e-cigarettes were not developed by tobacco companies to lure and hook youth, but were a response from small, independent e-cigarette companies to requests from mature smokers seeking better flavors and alternatives to "tobacco" and "menthol." I was one of them. The first non-tobacco flavor I bought, about a week after getting my e-cigarette, was peach. Then I bought mocha and French vanilla flavors. I've also tried mint chocolate chip, butterscotch, peanut butter cup and strawberry-peach. I was 41 years old at the time I first switched to an e-cigarette and I am now 46 -- hardly a "youth." It wasn't until I had access to flavors such peach and French vanilla that I lost all desire for regular cigarettes. In fact, that flavor of burning tobacco that I once loved now tastes terrible to me. I cannot imagine how flavors such as strawberry and key lime pie could act as a "gateway" to smoking. It's like claiming that virgin strawberry margaritas could be a gateway to drinking shots of tequila.
During my time on the forums, I discovered that the FDA was seizing shipments of e-cigarettes coming from overseas and two companies were suing the agency to cease and desist. Articles about e-cigarettes were fairly rare at that time, but those that were published were largely a regurgitation of press releases made by anti-tobacco groups. After the FDA released a misleading statement about the results of its own testing of e-cigarettes (exclusively products sold by the two companies involved in the lawsuit) that claimed to have found carcinogens and "an ingredient found in anti freeze," the articles only got worse. It was during that time that I started writing articles about e-cigarettes to counter all of the misinformation and blatant lies being circulated by the FDA and the anti-tobacco groups. None of the e-cigarette consumers at the time could understand why these groups were coming out against a smoke-free product that could help millions of smokers to also "accidentally quit." We naively thought that they just needed to hear our stories and see the potential of these devices. We couldn't have been more wrong.
I had never been politically active. I didn't even always vote during presidential elections. I was raised by left-leaning, Democrat parents and simply voted by party. But after seeing heavy-handed government in action and watching so many Democrat politicians try to ban e-cigarettes or treat them like conventional cigarettes, I started evaluating where I stood politically. I immersed myself in books, articles and studies about tobacco control and everything I ever believed was turned on its head. I learned the opposition wasn't about the health of smokers, but the health of budgets and funding of the government and anti-tobacco organizations. It was also about ideology and controlling behavior. Largely because of my experience fighting special interest groups, politicians, the CDC and the FDA, I'm now a moderate libertarian and I am much more involved in researching politicians before I vote. E-cigarettes not only changed my life, they opened my eyes and changed my politics.
CASAA board of directors at first live member meeting
In late 2009, members of one forum decided that there needed to be an organization to fight the misinformation and lies. The "industry" was too competitive to organize and consisted of small online store owners and a few brick-and-mortar shops that lacked the experience, time and funds to form an association. So, several people started the process of forming an organization to be a voice for consumers and a resource of factual information. Members of the forum nominated other members for the first board of directors and I was one of 13 elected to that first board. Ever since that day, I have served as a volunteer director, spending hundreds of hours with my fellow directors, building an organization from the ground up. Today, The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) has over 25,000 registered members, fought e-cigarette use bans and excessive taxes all over the country, met with the FDA and other federal agencies and committees on several occasions and is considered a legitimate voice for consumers by the media. I'm extremely proud of what we've accomplished -- with so little -- in such a short time.
Here I am, five years later, still not smoking and still fighting to see smoke-free alternatives (such as e-cigarettes) accepted and reasonably regulated as the safer, low-risk substitutes for smoking they are. Tobacco harm reduction works and it has changed my life in more ways than I ever imagined! I hope to see the day when CASAA is no longer needed. Until then, I hope every e-cigarette consumer -- and those who love them -- will stand by us and help us in this fight. In the US alone, 45 million lives are at stake.
Please go to casaa.org for more information about tobacco harm reduction and how you can help.