Ex-smoker hopefuls plug in to 'e-cigs'

Friday, February 19, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:13 a.m. CST, Friday, February 19, 2010
The components of an electronic cigarette are shown. The smokeless and odorless substitute for tobacco cigarettes are under scrutiny by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

COLUMBIA — In the era of e-everything, it's no great surprise there is now an e-cigarette.

Known as an "e-cig," the device is a battery-operated smoking substitute that looks like an ordinary cigarette but produces no smoke or ash. Smoking an e-cig is called "vaping."


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While it's unclear if the e-cig is much safer than an ordinary cigarette, the device has advantages in a smoke-free city such as Columbia. Risks associated with smoking tobacco cigarettes, such as secondhand smoke or fire safety, don't exist with e-cigs. There are no combustible products with e-cigs, which means no lighting up and no smoldering tobacco. That means laws that regulate smoking tobacco products might not apply either.

Aspiring nonsmokers seem to be embracing the e-cig.

At Aardvarx, at 17 N. Tenth St., sales of an e-cig brand called "Nova Smoke" have been pretty steady. Stefanie Sigrist, who works at the smoking supply and gift shop,  said Aardvarx has sold one to three of the electronic cigarette starter kits each week since the store began stocking them in December 2009.

"We've been placing orders every week," she said.

The Nova Smoke looks like a rechargeable cigarette pack  and has a flip-out plug in the base. The e-cig inside weighs slightly more than a regular cigarette because it contains a small rechargeable battery. The part that looks like the filter is a cartridge containing nicotine and an atomizer.

Lighting up an e-cig is simple: The "vaper" — the e-cig smoker —  just presses the cartridge onto the battery and takes a puff. A small bulb on the end lights  up, almost like a real cigarette. What's missing is smoke, ash and smoldering tobacco. There's no noticeable odor.

What's inhaled is mainly water vapor, which gives off a mist and delivers varying amounts of nicotine, depending on what type of cartridge is in the cigarette.

There are several brands available.

Chris Guebert, 30, of St. Louis tried "blu" brand e-cigs last year, but decided to go back to tobacco cigarettes after several weeks. "It was kind of a pain," he said.

He found the brand he tried became clogged and didn't deliver consistent puffs after he used it for several days.

"I would have stuck with it if you got a consistent puff every time" Guebert said.

Guebert said he is not a heavy smoker. But two of his friends who smoke heavily tried e-cigs as well. They also went back to tobacco after a short time because of the same problem: just not the same tobacco kick, Guebert said.

"You don't get the same drag" as you do from a tobacco cigarette, said Jordan Allen-Baxter, 22, a computer science junior. "You don't feel the smoke hit your lungs."

But he felt an improvement in his breathing within a month. Now, roughly six months since he began using an "e-cig," he has cut his tobacco smoking at least by half, going from a pack of cigarettes every day or two, to one every four days. He said one of his friends used e-cigs to quit smoking entirely.

"There's a different pattern from smoking regular cigarettes. With e-cigs, you take a puff whenever you want," Allen-Baxter said. He said by using cartridges with the higher level of nicotine, a smoker gets just as much, if not more, nicotine than from tobacco cigarettes. He hopes to step down his smoking and nicotine craving by switching to cartridges with lower nicotine levels.

Using the e-cig to cut down or quit smoking fits with what Sigrist has observed about people buying the device. More than half of the buyers have told her that they were buying the kit to help them quit smoking, she said.

For smokers looking for a way around Columbia's smoking ordinance, in effect since January 2007, the "e-cig" might just work. The ordinance makes possession of lighted, smoldering materials in enclosed public places unlawful. A smoking device that isn't lit and produces no smoke, however, would not violate the city ordinance, said Environmental Health Manager Gerry Worley from the Columbia Health Department.

There's a start-up cost: Smokers have to purchase a $44 kit, which consists of the charging cigarette case, the e-cig and its rechargeable battery and a cartridge containing nicotine with an atomizer that produces the vapor that smokers inhale.

Each cartridge has the same number of inhalations as an ordinary pack of cigarettes, Sigrist said. The store also stocks refill cartridges, which cost $7 for a pack of five.

Questions remain about the regulation of e-cigs.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began blocking e-cigs import into the U.S. in early 2009, a U.S. District judge granted a preliminary injunction in January allowing importation of e-cigs until a final decision is reached.

Two e-cig suppliers filed a lawsuit against the FDA by mid-2009 to stop the agency from blocking e-cig importation.

The FDA cited the 2009 federal Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which allows the agency to monitor tobacco products. However, the act specifically applies to tobacco products, and electronic cigarettes contain no tobacco.

There might still be people who wish they weren't available. Allen-Baxter said nonsmokers sometimes give him dirty looks when he's "vaping"  because they can see the vapor, a slight mist given off by the e-cig but they can't smell the difference, leading to confusion about whether he is actually smoking.


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Patricia Clewell February 19, 2010 | 11:55 a.m.

Thanks for the article. I switched to an e-cigarette almost a year ago after smoking for 30+ years. It's been nothing short of a miracle, as I'd tried almost everything else to stay away from traditional cigarettes, and I stopped smoking within the first week of getting an e-cigarette.

A couple of points I want to make: To say we don't know if the e-cigarette is much safer than smoking is not accurate. The American Association of Public Health Physicians estimates the risk posed by e-cigarettes to be much less than 1% of that posed by their traditional counterparts. The illnesses associated with smoking are due to combustion (inhaling smoke from any source is unhealthy). E-cigarettes vaporize a liquid rather combust materials.

Also, e-cigarettes contain about 20 ingredients, compared with thousands in traditional cigarettes, and e-cigarettes have none of the tar, carbon monoxide, and host of other toxins and carcinogens that make smoking so dangerous.

I would advise any smoker interested in switching to do research before buying. Most of the heavily advertised brands aren't that great, from what I hear, and they're a lot more expensive.

Forums for "vapers" are a good place to get opinions and advice. There's a bit of a learning curve with e-cigarettes, but this is easily overcome with the right product and a little practice, and it's well worth it to be free from the health problems, smell, litter, ashes, butts, etc., of smoking.

(Report Comment)
Cy Leap February 20, 2010 | 3:35 p.m.

waiting for the 4g upgrade

(Report Comment)
David Ursery February 27, 2010 | 2:39 p.m.

I quit using the E-Cig. I bought mine from a local Columbia company called Show Me Vapor. Their web site is I love my e-cig. I rarely use it nowadays. I used to smoke 2 packs a day.

(Report Comment)
john prashath August 11, 2010 | 6:57 a.m.

i feel electric cigarette is the all new alternative smoking solution that is taking the world by storm.I have an <a href="">electronic cigarette</a> myself and it works great, using it about few months and haven’t had any problems with it yet.The best part about my experience is that this new device has helped me quit traditional smoking for good! I think this is one of the best ways to quit smoking forever.

(Report Comment)
analea cruz September 30, 2010 | 8:51 a.m.

E-cigarettes are really a breakthrough for smokers. We get to enjoy smoking less all the harm tobacco smoking is giving us. I got blu cigs about a year ago and fortunately I am not one of those who experienced hassle about the product. I'd definitely recommend e-cigs to anyone smoking so they can experience too the benefit I got with my blu cigs e-cigarette.

By the way I was able to learn about blu cigs in this site.

(Report Comment)
ivy santos October 5, 2010 | 2:24 a.m.

In my own opinion e-cigarettes are a lot better than tobacco smoking. The points discussed above about e-cigarette are all true. I can attest because I have been using one called the blu electronic cigarette. Though I have read lots of comments both positive and negative I stick to blu cigs because the piece I got works pretty well and does not give me problem.

Before I decided on purchasing my starter kit I did a little research first about the product and I have found great info on this site:

(Report Comment)

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