During my freshman year, I met most of my friends on “the patio.” While I didn’t smoke personally, a few of my friends did. The cement slab facing Forbes Avenue was quite the hotbed for other smokers — new friends to kick ideas around with while taking a cool, three minute break from the hustle and bustle to kiss a nicotine mistress.
Did any of these smokers, congregated around the metal tables on Towers Patio, use e-cigarettes or e-hookahs? Sure. But the e-cig was never a replacement for traditional nicotine.
With one hand pulling a strange tube to his lips and the other hand clawing a pack of cigarettes, I watched a guy at my apartment alternate between nicotine options. Electronic smoking devices are convenient and supposedly a safer alternative to smoking, but in reality, most smokers just use both.
So why even bother using the e-pen to quit smoking? My friends complain that it just doesn’t hit like a real cigarette, it just doesn’t satiate the urge to smoke. Why double fist nicotine delivery methods like you’re relying on them for dear life? Put simply, it’s not just the nicotine that we’re addicted to — it’s also the allure of new technology that we’ve been absolutely hooked on since vaping technology hit the scene in 2006.
Think about it — there’s no hard evidence that suggests e-cigarettes are actually better at helping smokers quit than any other treatment, like a patch or placebo. According to a LiveScience article published earlier this week, after three to six months, there was no difference in the quitting rates among people who smoked e-cigarettes and those using alternative quitting methods.
In a 2014 report, Linda Bauld of Public Health England similarly asserted that e-cigarettes aren’t the best method for quenching nicotine addiction. Nicotine doesn’t enter the bloodstream as quickly when it is vaporized instead of smoked.
Still, knowing that they only work just as well as other quitting methods, people still choose the e-cigarette over patches.
Why? Because it’s new. For the smoker whose heart rate quickens with a glance at the colorful packs of cigarettes behind the 7-Eleven counter, the selection of e-cig and e-hookah accessories is mind-boggling. Not only can you choose between different e-pens in different colors, sizes and patterns, but you can buy different flavors and cases for the supposed “quitting tool.”
If the Marlboro Man of the 20th century enticed children to smoke, e-cigs in the 21st century surely roll off the shelf into willing adults’ hands.
Just as with other technologically-revamped items, e-cigs take something dirty and make it trendy. Just like a handbag — it’s an accessory.
A cool e-cig is like an overpriced designer purse. A sack will do the same job as a Louis Vuitton, but do you really want to be seen with it? Similarly, e-cigs seem to take away the shame of smoking a cheap, dirty cigarette.
In an ad for its electronic cigarette, South Beach Smoke creates a nearly laughable platform for why its e-cig is the right choice. The ad reads, “Smoking tobacco is lame, but vapor cigarettes … are stylish without all the carcinogens and mess.” Subsequent selling points about vapor cigarettes being “socially acceptable,” “versatile” and “state-of-the-art” equally baffle me. Are we talking about smoking or buying a new car?
But e-cigs can’t be a trendy, techy solution if they’re a health disaster. When your smoking device is pink with geometric patterns on it, your friends may ooh and aah at your beloved new toy. Why would you quit? Or rather, why wouldn’t you start? E-cigs are often adopted by people who never even smoked conventional cigarettes to begin with, according to Gizmodo, a technology blog.
Tim McAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN that while e-cigs “may have the potential to benefit established adult smokers … [they] should not be used by youth and adult non-tobacco users because of the harmful effects of nicotine and other risk exposures.”
An e-cig is only less harmful if you quit using other tobacco products. Otherwise, you’re just experiencing the dual effect — where people continue to smoke cigarettes and supplement their use with a vape. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. Vaping technology is not necessarily a safe alternative to smoking because it tends to complement it rather than replace it, creating a whole new market.
While a tango with an electronic cigarette might satisfy your need for all that’s new and trendy, there’s just no substitution for a night out with a good old-fashioned cancer stick, it seems. Rather than accessorize your Newport with a Blu e-Cig, forget them both. Electronic smoking devices are an accessory, not a solution.
E-cigs still have nicotine in them, and people still love to smoke. Even if by some miracle e-cigs completely replace traditional cigarettes in 20 years, Pitt students will find a “patio crew” of their own, charging up their vapes and puffing out clouds of nicotine-enhanced air.
So what’s really changed, then? The rat still presses the lever.
Courtney Linder is the Opinions Editor of The Pitt News and primarily writes on technology and social issues.
Write to Courtney at email@example.com.