This bonus column was originally published in August of 2010.
Having been bombarded with umpteen Internet ads for “electronic cigarettes,” I resolved to find out what the dadblamed things are.
An e-cigarette, I found, is a battery-powered device that delivers a fine spray of nicotine without any flame or smoke (although it does have a glowing red LED on the tip that lights up with every drag). They’re manufactured by nearly 20 companies and have been sold in the U.S. for about three years.
“Vapor is the new smoke,” proclaims one ad. Yeah, and addiction is the same old idiocy.
Since there is no second-hand smoke, nicotine fiends can legally puff away in offices, theaters, restaurants, planes, etc. It’s sort of creepy to think what other habits will be sanitized/glamorized in the future. Funerals, state dinners, and weddings will all be fair game. (“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to—hey, cool Electronic Toenail Clipping Catcher, dude!”)
The folks who can still get their public nicotine fix with e-cigarettes are really Sticking It To The Man, aren’t they? Too bad James Dean is no longer with us. He could star in “The E-Cigarette Story: Rebel Without A Left Lung.”
To be fair, the e-cigarettes are free of the carcinogens, additives, and tar found in traditional cigarettes. One spokesperson described them as “95 percent healthier than regular cigarettes.” That gives me an idea for marketing blunted tree limbs as toys. (“95 percent healthier than a poke in the eye with a SHARP stick.”)
On the other hand, while the propylene glycol used with the liquid nicotine is GENERALLY considered safe for human exposure, no one has really studied what will happen if a person deeply inhales the compound for hours at a time on a daily basis. I guess the industry slogan is “I’d walk a mile for a human guinea pig.”
E-cigarette aficionados are fuming while the FDA drags its feet about approving the devices. The fans look forward to the time when their “I want to be a little bit tobacco dependent” gadgets are on sale next to the “I wanna be a little big pregnant” products.
Touting the different flavors and nicotine levels available, one company gushes, “You have complete control and flexibility. It’s all up to you.” Uh huh, and I’ll bet if the electronic cigarette cartridges had a voice chip, it would be chortling, “Dance, puppet, dance.”
The industry likes to publish testimonials of smokers who have completely given up nicotine via the e-cigarettes, but many smokers simply switch from one source of nicotine to another. And why not? The e-cigarettes are marketed to young people as cool, hip, trendy. The colorful “skins” for the e-cigarettes are trumpeted as “the ultimate fashion statement.” (As in, “See the cute costume for the monkey on my back???”)
The altruistic purveyors of the e-cigarettes remind us that it’s not easy to quit nicotine cold turkey. (“It’s almost as hard as finding another racket as lucrative as e-cigarettes.”)
Look for the cutthroat competition between companies to escalate. Next year mere batteries will be soooooo 2010. Some genius will feel compelled to introduce NUCLEAR-POWERED cigarettes. (“They’re Chernobyl-icious!”) Users will proudly declare, “I’d rather fight than sw--” BOOOOM!
(“Sir, I’m sorry but mushroom clouds aren’t allowed in this theater and...AIIIEEEEEEE!!!”)
Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.