By: Sergio Impleton
Kicking the Habit with Electronic Cigarettes
Promoting an active anti-smoking campaign at a time when economics are so anxiety ridden, a shot of heroin wouldn’t prevent night tremors from turning into nightly mental volcanic explosions seems wicked in the extreme, but the academics of negative health effects have been on such a roll, to fly in the face of smoking opposition now would be tantamount to gaining a reputation as a serial killer. Not only do we have to consider the disgusting residues of tar and chemicals rattling around in our lungs and coursing merrily through our bloodstream, we are guilty of the malignancies caused by second hand smoke. Nobody wants to be accused of poisoning their children, even if said children live in an area with enough industrial pollution to choke out the life of King Kong. The pressure was on. Either quit smoking or for the rest of my natural or unnatural life, I would be branded a criminal.
I’ve been a smoker for over twenty years, which is to say, suddenly tossing the cigarettes out the window is easier said than done. A smoker going through withdrawal pains is not a very pleasant person to be around. When those nerve endings get hit with those problematic dilemmas that require keeping your cool and sorting out priorities, a long draw on a nicotine loaded cancer stick has a way of simmering down the explosive potential. For example, little Jimmy thinks he needs an i-phone because all his best friends have one, and he’ll be the odd man out, with all fingers pointing at his parents’ neglect of generosity and limited income if he doesn’t have one. First rule of academic association; never appear as though the family income has a bottom line.
As a smoker, little Jimmy could explain the situation, and I would listen, calmly shaking a cigarette from the pack and inhaling deeply, contemplating the issue. “Well, Jimmy, no. I can’t afford an i-phone for you right now because I can’t even keep up on the cable bill. I’ll tell you what. If you can get the family to agree to cut the air-conditioning down, I’ll buy you an i-phone and won’t tell anyone that the acceptable temperature in the house has been set at eighty degrees.” Without a cigarette, the somewhat more explosive answer is this; “No, Jimmy, you can’t have an i-phone because I said so. Now, go console yourself with down-loading all the Netflix movies you can before they raise their prices.”
Actually, budget was a big motivation for my half-hearted decision to quit. I had already dwindled my pack a day habit to a pack every two days, but in the face of rising costs, it still wasn’t enough. My wife kept reminding me that eliminating this luxury habit from my life would enable us to once again afford weekend barbeques of steak and hamburgers instead of just hamburgers and hot dogs. I considered the patch. A friend of mine had used it. There was one hitch. His medically approved patch came accompanied with a support group of prescription regulated nicotine anonymous ex-offenders. Apparently, the patch would not work as effectively without the voice of social conscience strong-arming its way into the door. Every morning he would receive a phone call asking how he was doing and assuring him that he can last one more day without the demon smoke warping his sound mind and sound judgment. I had two problems with that. First of all, I wanted to monitor my own nicotine flow. If I wanted to bombard my bloodstream one day, and dwindle it down to the equivalent of five cigarettes the next, I wanted to be able to do this without my patch making the judgment call. Secondly, the last thing I wanted was someone who carried the nasal tone of false exuberance my wife used whenever she decided I needed to be included in her diet/exercise program. One more word of encouragement and I would jump out the window of a seven story building.
There was one ray of hope; the electronic cigarette. It’s the ideal companion for the modern, plugged in, cyber interface junkie. The kit that I bought; electronic cigarettes come as a kit; has a battery charger that snuggled into a computer slot as comfortably as the upload cord for a digital camera. It has ten individual filters, each one equaling a pack of cigarettes. You exhale a smoke that is nothing more than water vapor.
That was the sales pitch that sold me. A potential new world opened up. Not only would I be able to smoke in the house without worry that the wife or kids would dial up EPA with a complaint, I could go out in public. I could walk a free man, puffing my electronic cigarette at street corners, in restaurants, at the movies, and nobody would do a thing about it.
“That’s delivering the wrong message,” said the wife. “The idea is that you can socialize with others without demonstrating to them that you have an oral fixation. You are thumb sucking in public.”
“We all have oral fixations,” I argued. “Thumb sucking begins in the womb. It’s instinctual. Chewing gum? An oral fixation. That extra helping at the dinner table that you don’t need? Oral fixation. And what about the bottles everyone carries around with them these days? It used to be that the only bottles you saw clutched were wrapped in a paper bag and in violation of open container laws. Now, you don’t see anyone without a bottle; bottled soda, bottled juices, bottled water. People don’t even need to eat anymore. They carry all their vitamin and mineral needs in a bottle they suck on throughout the day.”
The wife guiltily put down the bottle of vitamin enhanced water she was drinking. “At least I’m not sucking on a drug.”
Before we could get into a debate over the questionable use of drugs, she acceded and I bought my first electronic cigarette kit. At first, it was like playing with a new toy. I examined this marvel of engineering and could barely wait until I had to try out my first charge-up or filter change. I gulped down those sweet little doses of nicotine as fast as I could, but something was missing. Before the day was out, my lungs were climbing up into my throat, screaming for a little tar and chemical laced smoke.
As I inhaled my first real cigarette of the day, I realized smoking is more than the act of inhaling nicotine; it’s a ritual. The act of lighting it with your very own, personally attached lighter, watching the end flame up, the ash accumulate, the cigarette dwindle were all a mental process of smoker satisfaction. I felt bad because it became obvious my new electronic state of the art smoking wasn’t really going to let me go cold turkey on old fashioned, messy, wickedly intoxicating tobacco.
I redoubled my efforts, willing myself to believe my electronic device was the same as a real cigarette. I think I tried a little too hard. I lost my first electronic cigarette by unthinkingly tossing it out the car window . With five filters left and no igniter to activate them, I was forced to buy another kit. By this time I was getting the hang of it. Cautious not to smoke and drive again, I still lost myself in the feeling of its reality. If I was holding it while shrugging into my coat, I automatically protected the end from breaking. If I was waving it around, I brushed my clothing for loose ash. I constantly found myself tapping it on the ash tray, while the red glow button on the end winked on and off in alarm. I killed my second electronic cigarette, when, completely absent of mind and unsound of body, I lit the end of it.
I was in a quandary. If I bought another electronic kit, I would be kicking in seventy-five dollars for nicotine in two weeks time; double the average amount I was paying for cigarettes. Still, I had more than a dozen drug packed filters left and it seemed a pity to waste such marvels in modern engineering. I bought one more, determined the third time was be the charm.
I have, so far, managed to preserve this delicate instrument of refined smoking pleasure. There are times when forgetting my cigarette is artificial instead of natural, are luxurious moments instead of disastrous ones, such as the time I dozed off watching television, my electronic tube in hand, then shook myself severely awake, reminding myself I was holding a cigarette in my hand. But it was just a tube, laying peacefully across my chest. I took one half-conscious drag. “Not bad,” I thought and the pleasurable thoughts of being able to electronically smoke in grocery stores, restaurants and theaters danced once more in my head.
The time finally came when I was able to leave the sanctuary of my house and go out into public again without craving for release by hiding in an alley way with other drug addicts furtively sucking away at their coffin nails. My wife actually consented, or more accurately, dragged me along to a Saturday outing at the library. In essence, these excursions were to give the kids a heightened sense of culture, and hopefully to read a few books, but predictably they stuck pretty much to their own cultural understanding; the library computers.
Adjacent to the computer mode was a glassed in coffee shop, where satisfied mamas and papas drifted over to relax while their kids tore apart the reading room. It was the ultimate luxury in parental responsibility. They could actually observe and compare the behavior traits of their half-civilized prospective academicians. Not to be outdone by the young students buying their cappuccinos and mocha; by the sports moms in their sweat bands ordering squeezed juices and bran muffins, we joined the line in attendance and asked for two American coffees, black.
As I sat there, enjoying the first real euphoria of the day, all centered around this marvelous beverage while a drizzling rain outside accentuated the comfort of its warmth, the wife fooled around with her cup and eyed a particularly blond, tan young athlete sipping her strawberry smoothie. “You know,” she said, “I wonder if we should give up coffee. It is a drug after all.”
I looked down at the recycled paper heat band wrapped around the cup. Printed across it was the legend, “coffee. The last legal drug.” I thought about my struggles to overcome my smoking habit; the hours of pacing when all I really wanted was a ten minute break; a smoking ritual. It had been marvelous, perfectly timed, this corner of stepping out of the clatter of modern drudgery and watching the minutes tick away with the shrinking of the cigarette. Ten minutes of perfect calm. I thought about how many times I had been distracted from writing because I wanted that calm flow of nicotine to induce my fingers to keep typing, my brain to keep flowing in relaxed harmony with the words I pegged down.
Sure, there are a number of benefits dwindling down my smoking habit has brought me. I can actually jog along with the wife for a short distance without sounding like a freight train with a missing piston. I can smell again, although this sometimes is a drawback. I notice the cigarette smoke on other people’s clothing and sniff it a little just as a remembrance, which doesn’t endear them at all to someone who already has a reputation as peculiar. I kept closing my son’s door until the wife came in and removed a dozen bottles of slightly unfinished gatorade floating with growths of what can only be assumed to be a new species of life.
Still, my active thoughts rebelled. Humankind had survived for centuries on drugs. Shamans, witches, soothsayers, temple priests and priestesses all were the results of mind altering drugs. Artists thrived on their drug taking routines and more than one writer has scratched his deepest internal quests, objectives and truths while floating in a euphoric blue haze of drug induced inspiration. I could lay a wager that the covered wagons didn’t cross America with the pioneers swigging away at water bottles every five hundred yards, but they did save some of that water for coffee in the morning, along with a precious, hand rolled cigarette. For all we knew, the next genius would pop out of a cup of java. It had taken me months to rein in a habit that had caused momentary lapses into sanity in an otherwise painfully chaotic world. Did I really want to give up this single pleasure that had been a part of my morning routine for over two-thirds of my life and battle with the consequences of withdrawals, and who knew; possibly an end to all inspiration, intellectual responsibility and rational behavior? Hell no.