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Cigar addict stoked about e-cigarettes

upfront_robinson_avilaALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I’ve been a chain-smoking cigar lover for 30 years, and truthfully, until I learned about e-cigarettes and tried them for myself, I had never considered quitting stogies.

But no more.

Since September, I’ve been puffing on an electronic “vaping” device, which I decided to try while researching the ins and outs of the rapidly emerging e-cig industry for an article in the Journal.

Now I’m hooked, and I think that’s a very good thing.

My cigar addiction has plummeted from between five and 10 cigars daily — and sometimes more — to at best one or two a day now, and many times none.

Of course, a month of vaping and reduced tobacco use is still way too little to declare success in my effort to quit smoking. But my experience apparently mirrors that of many others who are switching from smoking to vaping in rapidly growing numbers as the new electronic cigarette industry emerges nationwide.

Vapor stores are springing up in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and other New Mexico locations as electronic cigarettes grow.

And yet our state lags way behind many other places, where the industry has already become well-established. In Anaheim, Calif., for example, about 20,000 people attended the first annual convention and trade show organized by the West Coast Vapors Club in September.

Similar associations are active in cities around the U.S. And there’s a vibrant, worldwide online community that’s been touting the benefits of electronic cigarettes for years.

“Hundreds and hundreds of people are giving online testimony about how they’ve never been able to quit smoking with other products, and now they’re exclusively using vapor devices,” said Freddy Olsen, owner of Vapor Space in Albuquerque. “The online community is massive and global.”

After using a vaping device myself, I can now understand the growing enthusiasm. I’m finding vaping to be as satisfying as smoking a real cigar, yet with virtually none of the negative health effects.

Yes, I am inhaling nicotine, which is addictive, but that’s not the ingredient in tobacco that causes cancer. Rather, it’s the tar and many other toxic chemicals contained in cigarettes and other tobacco products, much of which is produced from the combustion when lighting up a smoke.

With vaping devices, there is no combustion. A battery emits a low voltage that heats a coil and turns flavored liquid to vapor, and that’s all the user inhales.

Moreover, the nicotine content in the e-liquid is much less than that found in tobacco products. And the vapor stores will reduce that content to zero upon a customer’s request.

There are lingering concerns about inhaling the other ingredients in e-liquids. Apart from water, those are propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and flavoring.

But some three dozen studies have been conducted to date, and not one has shown any ingredient at any level harmful to humans, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association in Atlanta. In fact, a new study published in August by the Drexel University School of Public health found that no current data indicate exposure to vapors from contaminants in electronic cigarettes warrant concern.

But with such new technology, concern does remain widespread among many health organizations, contributing to a growing debate about the alleged benefits of e-cigs and their potential dangers.

That’s also a good thing. Consumers need definitive answers about whether this new technology is really the Holy Grail many smokers say it is to quit tobacco. And bystanders need to know that second-hand vapors are not damaging to them.

That debate will likely gain force in late October, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to release its first proposed regulations for electronic cigarettes, addressing issues such as appropriate advertising, standards for the ingredients used in e-liquids and restrictions on sales to minors.

But from my perspective, while more definitive scientific research is positive to resolve pending questions about health and safety, enough has already been done to satisfy many, if not most of my concerns.

At the very least, I’m confident that my health will fare better from vaping e-liquids than smoking cigars.

And my pocketbook is doing much better as well.

Through August, I spent between $200 and $250 per month on cigars. In September, I bought a vaping device with battery charger that cost about $75, and since then I’ve spent about $5 per week on a bottle of tobacco-flavored e-liquid to refill the vaping tank when it runs down.

Now, I’m thinking of splurging a bit on a few new e-liquid flavors, maybe lemon lime or a traditional menthol tobacco.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Kevin Avila-Robinson at krobinson-avila@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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