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That time of year

Every year, without fail people resolve themselves to doing something. I plan to cut down or stop drinking/smoking. To lose weight. To go to a gym. We’ve all made these resolutions and, 99 times out of 100, we never actually stick with them. Some do, and I’ve got nothing but admiration for those that can actually stick with a ‘New Year’s Resolution’, but most of us last maybe a week or two, sometimes a month before jacking it in.

Last November I had the honour (?!) of taking part in a small filming session to talk about e-cigarettes, my story and how they helped me make the transition from smoking to vaping. It got me thinking, as these things are wont to do, about how my experience in that transition – now on film for people to see – could possibly help others.

I’d planned to write a more detailed account, but as with anything I plan to do – including Resolutions – I never got around to it. Until now. Of course, I wasn’t the only one who’d been thinking about this, Neal Roff – a fabulous friend of mine – put his thoughts on this exact topic down on his blog, which later got picked up by Louise Ross, manager of the Leicester Stop Smoking Service. I highly recommend Neal’s post as it is very informative, this post is more from my own point of view.

There is a dearth of product and information out there, so the everyday consumer can be forgiven for being thoroughly confused about where to start. As everyone has differing requirements and needs, there is no real one-size-fits-all starting point, so let’s start with the basics.

Terms

As with any technology, there are a range of terms that you’ll come across that will be unfamiliar. In no particular order:

  • Mod

A mod often refers to the “brains” of the whole device. It is sometimes used to refer to the whole e-cig device. Mods can often be the biggest investment.

  • Tank

In normal terms a tank would generally refer to an armoured vehicle with a honking great gun turret. In the e-cig world, a tank refers to the component part of the device that holds both the atomiser, e-liquid and mouthpiece.

  • Atomiser

Often referred to as a coil, this is the component part that, when the fire button on the mod is pressed, heats the e-liquid soaked wick turning it into an inhalable vapour. Atomisers/coils are consumables and will need replacing at fairly regular intervals depending on how often you choose to use your device.

  • E-Liquid

Commonly referred to as “e-juice” or just simply “juice”, this is the stuff, that when vapourised by the atomiser, will be inhaled. E-Liquid is another part of the experience that is consumable so will need to be replenished regularly. Liquids are available in a wide variety of flavours and nicotine strengths to suit individual needs.

  • Cell/Battery

If the mod is the brains of the device, the cell is its heart. It is the main power source. The cells used in e-cigarettes are high power and need to be treated with respect. Always purchase these from reputable stores, and always use the correct charger.

  • Wick

The wick, often made from cotton or similar material, absorbs the e-liquid and, to a degree, aids in the prevention of the coil overheating. Observe care with the wick, if it dries out (lack of e-liquid) it can be susceptible to being burnt if your device is operated.

  • Airflow

Airflow forms a significant part of the experience. Similar to a traditional cigarette, air is drawn through a hole (or holes) on the tank, through the atomiser and into the mouthpiece, and eventually your mouth.

  • Mouthpiece

The final part of an e-cigarette. The mouthpiece, as the name suggests, allows you to place the device into your mouth, activate the device and inhale the vapour. The action is not too dissimilar to a traditional cigarette, though some differences do exist.

What is an e-cigarette?

Put simply as possible, an e-cigarette consists of a few key components as shown in the following image:

Parts_of_an_Electronic_cigarette

The operation of an e-cigarette is fairly straightforward. Power, from the cell is applied to the atomiser – in a very similar way to power being applied to a light-bulb filament – causing it to heat up. This heats the juice soaked in the wick to generate an inhalable vapour that is then drawn into your mouth via the mouthpiece and subsequently inhaled. Just like smoking.

The type of device at this point is irrelevant.

Which e-cigarette should I get?

A common question asked by many looking to switch to e-cigarettes (either because they want to, or because they want to stop smoking). The short answer is, the one to get is the one that you feel comfortable using. There is no right or wrong device for anyone. I would suggest that for a first time user, start with something simple. I won’t mention brands here, that’s not the purpose of this post. The information here is to provide potential switchers a grounding in what to expect.

You’ll get all kinds of information from the store you visit, most of it will be unnecessary (to a degree). There are (thankfully) a number of manufacturers making starter kits – mostly small, easy to use devices that come complete with everything needed (except the e-liquid) to get started. Prices range from £20 upwards, depending on which shop you go to.

At this point, I would strongly recommend going to a dedicated vape shop rather than your local Tesco supermarket or petrol station. While those places have a range of devices available, the staff are often unaware of the intricacies involved in selling to a new user.

That does not mean that the devices they stock are useless. Far from it. They’ll be sufficient for a number of people looking for something they can get hold of quickly, or when they do their weekly shop. However, the best advice for a new user will always come from someone that knows the products. That means a local vape shop. While there, you can try out the various devices available to you. See which one fits you best. Most vape shops will be happy to spend as much time as you need going over the various options available.

Once you’re comfortable with your chosen equipment, you can look at upgrading to a more advanced device at a later date should you wish.

In a nutshell, follow the K.I.S.S principle. Keep It Simple Silly. The more confused you get the less likely you are to stick with this change.

There’s so many flavours! Which one should I get?

Unlike with the choice of device, there is a wrong flavour to get. Do you regularly chew gum of any sort? No? Then a bubblegum flavoured liquid won’t be for you. As with the choice of device, I would highly recommend keeping it simple.

There are lots of them available, many of them combine multiple flavours – like nectarine, apricot and papaya – into one liquid. Do you have a sweet tooth? Try going for dessert or sweet flavoured liquids.

As before, your local vape shop will be your best bet here. They will have a range of flavours available for taste-testing. Find at least two or three that you like – blueberry and apple flavours are common starting points. As are cherry and orange. I started with a plain old apple flavour and an absinthe flavour.

While there are some tobacco based flavours available, I’d recommend staying away from them to begin with for a couple of reasons:

  1. Many of them, but not all, are actually a poor substitute for real tobacco
  2. In some cases, the taste of tobacco flavour may remind you about smoking – even though the sensation of vaping is markedly different

How do I use an e-cigarette to stop smoking?

As Neal succinctly put over on his postnever set a target. It does not matter if you are able to switch to an e-cigarette immediately, or if you take longer. This is your journey. Take as long as you need. Be it days, weeks, months or even years.

Also, don’t view this as an actual attempt to quit smoking. Think of it more along the lines of a simple brand change. There isn’t a big difference in the sensation of vaping compared to smoking.

The trick that worked for me, especially in the workplace was to use my device two or three times whenever I would normally head outside for a smoke.

Do you light up (as I did) as soon as you wake up in the morning? Try a puff or two on your e-cig instead, but don’t force yourself to do so.

I later discovered that re-association plays a pivotal role in making the transition from smoking to vaping. Flavours play a huge role in that. Unlike cigarettes, that only have two flavours – tobacco and menthol – e-cigarettes have hundreds, possibly thousands of flavours available.

Taste is subjective and flavours add something to the whole experience of vaping that isn’t normally found in smoking. It’s a fun element. The discovery of new flavours as your taste buds come back.

Cigarette smoking is a habit which has a simple taste but a large number of triggers and associations – like having a smoke with alcohol, or the first smoke of the day. With vaping those triggers and associations are still there, it’s just the experience that’s different. You can take one element and change your association completely and that is the flavour. Before long, if you are purely using e-cigs, all those embedded behaviours become linked to a different flavour and for many that flavour is preferable. So you positively re-associate the inhale and exhale, cementing vaping as a new habit. You dissociate from the old smoking habit.

Or, to put it another way – all of the pleasure at a tiny fraction of the risk.

I’ve started vaping, but I’m using my device a lot!

A fairly common misconception about vaping is that you only use the device when you feel you want to have a cigarette. This isn’t strictly true. As with any habit, your body is used to a certain experience. When transitioning to vaping, your body isn’t absorbing the same quantity of nicotine from an e-cigarette as it would with a normal cigarette.

Most cigarettes take roughly 5 minutes to smoke on average (some less, some more depending on how you smoked) so your body needs to get the same absorption and to do that it “prompts” you to use your e-cig more. This is perfectly normal and does, eventually, taper off as your body gets used to the lower levels of nicotine.

This is the same process that you would go through on a course of nicotine replacement therapy. Patches especially are designed to taper the nicotine delivered through the skin to the blood over a course of a few weeks – ideal course is around 12 weeks, though some are shorter. The key difference between patches (or other NRT) and e-cigarettes is the method of delivery. Vaping mimics the sensation of smoking (right down to the throat hit on inhale) while NRT is, well it’s just there. The associations and triggers are still there, but you are enforcing a change of habit by not smoking.

Some find this method easy and are able to quit smoking in this way. But not everyone can.

Are these things safe?

Unfortunately, at this time of year there are a lot of stories about potential risks with e-cigarettes. The vast majority of these are, quite frankly, over-exaggerated.  The biggest “problem” with e-cigarettes are to do with the cells and chargers.

  • Only use the charger that comes with your device
  • Never leave a charging device unattended for long periods
  • Never leave your device charging overnight
  • When not in use, the device will usually switch itself off
  • If you use replaceable cells, store them in dedicated containers (battery boxes) or the rubberised “battery condoms”
  • If you are carrying spare replaceable cells do not carry them loose in your pocket with coins, keys or anything metallic
  • Do not continue to use replaceable cells that have visible damage to the wrapping
  • Do not continue to use replaceable cells that are warped, bulging or have any other physical defect

I’ve tried these things before, they didn’t work!

That could be due to any number of factors, here are some common ones:

  • Your chosen device was too complicated
  • Your chosen e-liquid didn’t have a high enough nicotine strength
  • Your chosen e-liquid wasn’t quite to your liking

As with any change to a routine, patience and perseverance is key to making the change a permanent one. This doesn’t mean that vaping is right for everyone, because it isn’t. But it can, and does work for a large majority – and it can work for you.

Think about when you are using your device, are you using it because it’s in your hand and you feel you have to use it? As a smokers, we are used to holding the cigarette or our fancy lighter (if you had one) in our hand for a period of time – it’s one of the primary associations with smoking, the having to do something or have something in our hand. But let’s face it, did we have a cigarette in our hand all day?

There’s nothing wrong with having your device in your hand at times when you wouldn’t necessarily have a cigarette, some find it comforting to hold something while others don’t want that association. If you find that keeping your device in your hand at times when you wouldn’t smoke to be comforting, that’s fine and dandy. There is no right or wrong way here.

This is a personal journey, and while there are some very generic rules of thumb it is a journey for you and you alone to make.

What about the scary news stories?

The simplest advice here is the best. Don’t believe everything you read. There is, and no doubt always will be a lot of information printed in the snooze papers. All news articles are written to provoke a reaction – usually a negative one – on a particular subject. Vaping and e-cigarettes are no exception, it’s just that in this case the scariest headlines are most often over-exaggerations and they never tell the whole story.

I don’t run a vape shop, I have no vested interest in vaping or e-cigarettes. I am simply a consumer, I made a choice almost three years ago to switch. Since then I’ve seen a lot of bad press and even worse “science” published – much of which I’ve written about on this blog.

I want big clouds!

My advice here is simple. Forget the clouds. The only combustible tobacco that (for me) generated a particular volume of smoke was a cigar. Cigarettes produce a fair amount of smoke, we all know this. But a simple starter kit, with the right e-liquid can produce similar amounts.

If you really want to produce “da cloudz” you’ll need to invest in more advanced hardware and be prepared for an increase in e-liquid consumption. Not ideal for a new user.

Patience, if you really want clouds you’ll get there. Just give yourself time to adapt to your new habit before advancing. Walk before you can run.

Final thoughts

Whew. That’s a lot of information to digest. The main point is that patience above all is needed. Experiment with different devices before buying – hence the advice to find a local vape shop.

Vaping can be simple or complicated, but only if you let it get that way. You don’t need to know, or even fully understand everything about vaping to be able to use a device. The plethora of available devices is a boon rather than a burden because there is a device out there for you.

Vaping is different from smoking, but different in a good way. You can get the experience you want, generally without spending a large amount of cash to get there. Of course, if you want to you can experiment with other, more advanced devices in time. Or you can choose a starter kit, and use it to stay off cigarettes and then eventually stop vaping.

There is no pressure to fully switch to vaping, or to stop vaping entirely.

Take advantage of your local vape shop, if you have one, or better yet a friend or relative that may already be vaping. Advice from existing users, such as myself and Neal can prove invaluable. Some stop smoking services, such as Leicester and Bristol, are “e-cig friendly” and will also provide you with additional support should you need it.

It doesn’t matter what type of device you choose to start with, nor does it matter what flavours you choose. The journey begins when you are ready.

The choice, as they say, is up to you.

(Image credit librakv/shutterstock.com & Wikipedia)

4 thoughts on “That time of year

  1. I would add one thing as it relates to flavor preference: Encourage every prospective vaper to try a variety of flavors across the flavor spectrum. You may be surprised what you like and don’t like! I have a ferocious sweet tooth but am not at all fond of dessert eliquid flavors. On the other hand, I like few fruits, but fruit eliquid flavors are my favorite. I don’t drink cola but cola eliquid is also among my favorites. On the third hand, I was always a menthol smoker and am a menthol vaper. And so it goes…

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    • You’re absolutely right! With the wide variety available, it is well worth giving as many flavours a try as possible. It can be quite surprising what folk like or dislike. Most of the advice in this post is based (more or less) on my own individual experience, along with bits and pieces I’ve picked up over the last 2 3/4 years ;-)

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  2. A very relevant issue for those switching from cigarettes to e-cigs is the an important difference between the cigarette smoking vs vaping experiences: cigarettes are very light weight easily disposable items, whereas e-cigs are heavier non-disposable devises that require maintenance and care. In this respect, e-cigs are more like “sort of” electronic techno-versions of the traditional pipes or small hookas. You make some comments related to this in your section “I’ve tried these things before, they didn’t work !”, and indeed this change in the nature of devises and mechanics of the ritual is behind many failures in smokers’ attempts to switch. Vaping was easy for me because I smoke (still smoke) a pipe, but the change of ritual was an unbridgeable barrier for my cigarette smoking wife: she misses having her hands free while keeping the cigarette in her lips and hates to give maintenance to a “techno-pipe” that she sees as a “too masculine” devise. Of course, in spite of the fraudulent health scares many cigarette smokers undergo a successful transition, and (in spite of nasty prohibitionist regulation) technology will likely improve to make e-cigs that mimic cigarette smoking more accurately.

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