When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, my husband redoubled his efforts to quit smoking. His smoking had always been a point of contention in our marriage. I wanted him to quit. He wanted to quit too. But he also didn’t. He tried to explain to me that he hated smoking but he also loved it.
But with a baby on the way he knew he had to do whatever it took.
He smoked his first cigarette in second grade. His first quit attempt was in sixth grade. I can’t tell you how many quit attempts he made during our marriage. A lot, that’s for sure. But he was determined to make it work this time.
The last quit attempt he made was half way through my pregnancy. It was a rough one. He made it four days, past that magic point where the physical withdrawal is supposed to stop. We were both pretty devastated when he started smoking again.
That’s when he told me he wanted to try electronic cigarettes. “Well, that’s dumb”, I thought. “Why doesn’t he just quit?”
Looking back, I’m embarrassed that I thought that. I knew it wasn’t that simple. I was there when he would wake up sobbing in the middle of the night from cigarette withdrawals.
He didn’t think he could give up tobacco. But he didn’t want to keep smoking cigarettes all day either. He had hatched a plan that involved using electronic cigarettes during the day and smoking cigars or pipe tobacco at night or on the weekends. He thought maybe if he had some real tobacco to look forward to he could tolerate the ecig.
I was annoyed. It sounded like a way for him to get around actually quitting. Plus, I was skeptical about how safe electronic cigarettes even were. It seemed likely that they were full of weird chemicals.
So he bought an electronic cigarette from a gas station and I started doing research. I’m a researcher by nature. I like to get to the bottom of things.
Every time he puffed on that little electronic cigarette I had to hold back laughter. It was ridiculous looking. The fact that it tried to imitate a cigarette just made it worse. It cost $10. Smokes were around $5 a pack so I calculated that he would have to use it two days for us to break even. I didn’t think he could go that long though.
Then it stopped working. Turns out the battery just doesn’t last very long. So he bought another one. $20 in two days. This was proving to be more expensive.
But he was optimistic that it could work. It wasn’t really satisfying his cravings, but they were manageable. All I knew is that for two days I didn’t have to deal with the smell that always lingered. The one he swore I was making up. If for nothing else, that was worth it.
So we both researched. He researched what type of electronic cigarettes to buy – surely there was something that would last longer than a day – and I researched the safety.
It was hard to find quality safety information. There were tons and tons of testimonials, but we all know that anecdotes aren’t science. I wasn’t going to go by stories on a message board.
I found some promising studies, but they were small and not enough to be definitive. Then I found the press release from the FDA. I was right all along. There were harmful chemicals in electronic cigarettes.
But like I said, I’m a researcher. Obviously I wasn’t going to just look at the press release. I wanted to see the actual study. It turns out that the FDA wasn’t being entirely honest. Were there harmful chemicals in the electronic cigarette cartridges they tested? Yes. But at trace levels. Not even levels they themselves considered harmful.
Wait? Did the FDA purposely mislead the public about electronic cigarettes?
I didn’t have enough information to be sure they were safe, but I was pretty sure they couldn’t be worse than smoking. Even if he wasn’t going to see a health benefit, at least I wouldn’t have to deal with the nasty third hand smoke anymore.
His research had been more fruitful. He decided he need a refillable device with a better battery. After much searching he found a local vape shop. One of two in our city at the time.
The day he walked into that shop was the first day of a crazy new chapter of our lives. The two women who ran the shop not only got him set up with a personal vaporizer and several flavors of e-liquid but they hired him to design their website.
That night he told me that people called using electronic cigarettes “vaping” and we both laughed at how ridiculous it sounded. He also told me that after vaping blueberry cinnamon crumble he didn’t think he could ever go back to cigarettes. He was right.
While he was designing the website he spent a considerable amount of time in the vape shop. Despite having no web presence and virtually no advertising, they were always busy. Most customers had been referred by a friend that had stopped smoking.
I was in awe of the stories he brought home. It was weird to hear about so many people actually being successful at giving up cigarettes. In fact, the three owners were all former smokers themselves.
So I did more research. And the more research I did the more positive data I found. Because it wasn’t coming from official sources it was harder to track down, but it was out there.
I was becoming a believer. I asked my husband if he was still planning on smoking cigars and pipes. He laughed. There was no way he was going to inhale burning tobacco when he could vape Van Appplewood. He had regained his sense of taste and he was going to use it.
By this time he had decided to give up graphic design to work with the women I called his “vape ladies.” He told me that more than anything in his life before, he felt like he could really tangibly help people everyday working there. Plus, he loved vaping. It really resonated with the techy in him.
That’s when I started to spend some time in the store. I had seen the health improvements in my husband, but what I saw there changed me.
All of the stories. All of the real people. All of the ways they had tried and tried to get free of cigarettes. The way customers standing in line would encourage a nervous newbie buying a starter kit. “You can do it,” they would say. “If I can lay down cigarettes anyone can.”
I’ll never forget the day this older couple came in to buy e-liquid. They had both been smoking for forty years before they had gotten a starter kit nine weeks before. The wife had COPD and they were desperate. We all cried when they told us that not only had they both been cigarette free for nine weeks but her doctor had just taken her off of her breathing treatments.
There were a lot of stories like that.
I don’t know what got to me more. The old customers or the young ones. Seeing someone break free from a 30 year habit is awesome. But when you see a 20 year old make the switch there is a sense of joy thinking of the lifetime of smoking they are avoiding.
I remember standing in the office with the owners on the day we found out that our state wasn’t in the top ten for smoking for the fist year ever. We all cried that day too.
In fact, cigarette sales were starting to fall. And pretty significantly. We knew tobacco companies were scared when they started buying electronic cigarette companies. They were losing customers and wanted them back.
Of course, their little ‘cigalikes’ couldn’t compete with actual personal vaporizers. The vaping ladies weren’t nervous. Big Tobacco wasn’t going to get those customers back.
I just could not believe what we were seeing. Would I be explaining to my son one day what smoking was? Would I tell him I was there for the beginning of the end of an epidemic?
Surely public health officials would be thrilled. And politicians. I knew we had to let them know what was happening.
A consumer led industry of small businesses owned by former smokers was threatening the grip of cigarettes on our state and our nation.
I was in for a surprise. “Thrilled” is not what I found. It turns out that public health people didn’t want to hear from those of us witnessing this miracle. They were actually against vapor products. But maybe they just need more information, I thought.
Two years later my trust in public health has evaporated. I am so dismayed at the misinformation released from trusted organizations. I can’t believe the amount of evidence they are willing to ignore and the ease at which negative hypotheticals are accepted as fact. It turns out the FDA wasn’t alone in trying to villianize electronic cigarettes.
It is hard to have seen what I have seen, to talk to the real people I have talked to, and then hear what is being said by those that are supposed to protect our health.
Vapor products are a scheme from tobacco companies to addict youth? Don’t they already have cigarettes for that? The purpose of electronic cigarettes is to cleverly skirt smoking bans? Wait, the only reason they aren’t all tobacco flavored is to hook kids on nicotine? What?
No wonder vapers are such a cynical bunch. After years of being social pariahs as smokers, they finally give up smoking only to be told they didn’t do it the right way. It’s not really quitting. Their vaporizers look stupid and are annoying. They are just an anecdote and there’s no evidence anyone is giving up cigarettes. All of the people who had been pressuring them to quit smoking still weren’t happy.
I found out that when you are dealing with an issue like tobacco, the line between health and welfare and money and politics gets blurred pretty quickly. Tobacco companies and pharmaceutical companies both sell expensive products that are feeling very threatened. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
I’ve learned a lot about the history of tobacco control through this.
I’ve learned about the bloody war between the tobacco giants and the tobacco control movement. I found out that tobacco companies have been caught in some really big lies like “safer cigarettes” and public health officials are on guard. Fool me once…
My trust in the intentions of most public health leaders isn’t gone. A lot of vapers think I’m naive, overly optimistic. But I know that it’s easy to assume the worst about “them.” Whoever “them” is.
Public health leaders think those sweet ladies who have helped thousands of people quit smoking are offering cotton candy e-liquid in an attempt to ensnare kids and not because they like to vape it themselves. Vapers think public health leaders don’t care if people die from smoking as long as the funding from the master settlement agreement and pharma keeps rolling in.
I think that when you spend your life fighting smoking it’s just really hard to accept something that looks like smoking. And, I suspect, it may be difficult to imagine a consumer product reducing smoking faster than all of your long and hard work. I think anyone would struggle with that.
I am now an advocate for vapor products. I am an advocate because I believe with all of my heart that vapor products can obsolete cigarettes if given a chance. I am an advocate because there are so many people lying about this that someone needs to tell the truth. I am an advocate because each time I read an article full of unfounded e-cigarette fear mongering I think about the people that will decide to just keep smoking because of it. I am an advocate because I want my son to grow up in a world where nicotine addiction doesn’t have to equal a lifetime of smoking.
I am an advocate for electronic cigarettes for the 42 million Americans that still smoke. And I will do everything in my power to ensure that they have access to the products that I have seen change so many lives.
That is my story.
*Note: My husband is still a happy vaper. Even in times of high stress (like worrying that the FDA is going to follow through with shutting down your business and giving your industry to BT) he doesn’t consider going back to cigarettes because he enjoys vaping. I am not a vaper and I’ve never smoked.