Rebecca Juro

Can An E-Cigarette Really Help You Quit Smoking?

Filed By Rebecca Juro | June 10, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: e-cigarettes, quitting smoking, smoking, smoking cessation

That's what I'm going to find out, very soon.

When people tell me, as they so often do, that I should quit smoking, I like to joke that I'm an expert on quitting smoking since I've done it seven times already.

blu-productpack.jpgFor me, the real problem is that I've never been able to make it stick. I've tried gum, lozenges, patches, cold turkey, cutting down...with the exception of prescription medication (and the expensive necessary blood test to see if I can take it) which I just can't afford, you name it and I've probably tried it at one time or another. Sometimes it works for a while and sometimes it doesn't, but all cases I've failed over the long term.

The best I've ever done was a couple of weeks smoke-free on the patches, but the glue on them made my fair and sensitive skin break out in itchy hives all around the areas of my body I'd stick them to. Finally, I just couldn't take it anymore and within hours of the time I'd stopped using the patches I found myself with a butt in my hand and a pack in my purse.

It doesn't help that as a transperson I'm a member of a community which seems to have an inordinately high percentage of smokers. The way I fell off the wagon when I stopped using the patches was that it just happened to be the same day that I attended a transgender film festival at the William Way Center in Philadelphia.

The audience was made up mostly of transfolks, and when there was a break between films, about 90% of the audience got up from their seats and went outside for a smoke on the small outdoor patio separated from the room where the films were being shown only by large windows and a door that drew in the smell of smoke every time someone went in or out. I'd been doing fine until that point, but once I smelled that smoke with no patch to cut the craving, I caved.

I went out on the patio, bummed a cigarette from someone, and that was the end of that. After the film festival, I hit the first convenience store I found on my way back to my car, bought a pack, and smoked myself right back into a full-on habit on the way back to Jersey.

The Right Motivation

It hasn't been for lack of motivation. One thing you discover when you do talk radio and podcasting is that you end up spending a lot of time listening to recordings of yourself talking. Since resuming my podcasts, I've found myself liking the sound of my voice less and less, and I know why.

As time goes on and I continue to smoke, my voice becomes rougher and deeper. For a woman, and for a transwoman especially, this is not a good thing just in general, and it's especially bad for someone relying solely on her voice to present herself to listeners.

Thing is, there's a cure but it has an expiration date. Quitting smoking will definitely improve my voice substantially if I do it soon, but that won't always be the case. As I get older, it becomes less and less likely that my voice will fully come back to its natural tone once I stop smoking. I know that if I want my upcoming live talk show to really be the best it can be (and of course I do) I need to stop smoking, and I've been considering different options for a while now. I've now decided to try approaching the problem from a completely different angle.

I'd first heard about e-cigarettes from a tweet by noted transgender author Kate Bornstein. She'd tweeted that she was going to try it and I warned her against it, believing that breaking the actual habit of smoking is just as important as ending the physical dependence on nicotine. Now, with the show coming, not being happy with the sound of my voice, and no other untried ideas that seem realistic at this point, I decided to do a little research and see if an e-cigarette might just be the answer for me.

What Is an E-Cigarette?

I discovered, frankly much to my surprise, that this may actually make sense for me, at least as a temporary solution. An e-cigarette doesn't produce any actual smoke. There's nothing to light, no actual tobacco to burn, and therefore no smoke. An e-cigarette uses a battery to heat an atomizer, which turns a liquid (referred to by users as "juice") containing flavoring and nicotine into a vapor which is then inhaled like real smoke.

According to the information and reviews I've read, the vapor is almost entirely water but it looks like real smoke, tastes like real smoke, and gives you the nicotine your body craves, but it isn't actually tobacco smoke so you get none of the tar, carcinogens, and other super-unhealthy stuff that can make you sick or fuck up your voice.

Another nice advantage of e-cigarettes, although not necessarily something that will help in quitting, is that because the "smoke" is actually water vapor which has no smell and doesn't linger, it can be used in places where tobacco smoking is banned. It doesn't stink up a room or your clothes and hair, there's no secondhand smoke for others to have to deal with, no ashes to get all over everything, no butts to dispose of, and no burning coal at the end to burn anything or anyone with.

On top of all that, there's the cost factor. One e-cigarette company, Blu, offers a starter kit containing everything you need to get started, including a carton of cartridges that provide the vapor and nicotine equivalent to 375-500 (depending on how they are "smoked" by an individual user) tobacco cigarettes, all for $60. Additional cartons of 25 Blu cartridges sell for $25, making the actual price equivalent to paying $1 a pack for the same amount of puffs and nicotine as tobacco cigarettes.

Through more research I discovered that there is another e-cigarette company, Volcano, which sells cartridges that are compatible with the Blu e-cigarette for even less, bringing the cost down to around 65 cents a pack as compared to tobacco smokes. If I want to save even more money, I can buy the juice separately from a variety of companies in many different flavors, and use it to refill old cartridges (though doing this will void Blu's one-year warranty) or fresh unfilled ones that I can buy from Volcano, a technique referred to by e-cigarette users as "dripping". Needless to say, the ability to cut my cigarette budget by 75% or more is a very attractive feature.

Do Your Homework

One thing I'd strongly suggest to anyone considering trying e-cigarettes is to do your homework. As with a lot of new products, there are plenty of scams out there and I almost got caught in one of them. I ordered one that seemed to offer a free trial for just $4.95 shipping and handling, but then I discovered well-hidden in the fine print, which was pretty well-hidden itself, that what they actually send you is a full kit which they then charge you an arm and a leg for, plus they subscribe you to a monthly shipment of their overpriced cartridges.

When I tried to cancel the order they gave me the runaround, so I went to my bank and blocked them from accessing my account. I'm out the shipping charge but I'll eat that as the price of my mistake. Once the package does arrive, it'll be returned to sender post-haste. I'd rather keep smoking Marlboros than pay these people another nickel of my money. For about three seconds I did consider keeping it and then giving them the same kind of runaround they gave me, but I've decided it's easier to just send their stuff back and be done with it, and them.

I was notified by email yesterday that Blu has processed my order and it will ship within 48 hours. I'm really looking forward to trying this, though obviously I really have no idea if this is actually going to work for me. Blu is not marketed as a way to quit smoking, but cartridges and juice can be purchased with varying amounts of nicotine, from as strong as any tobacco cigarette on the market all the way down to flavor and smoke but no nicotine at all. I know that many have used e-cigs as a way to quit by starting with high nicotine cartridges and then decreasing their nicotine intake over time.

Interestingly, there seems to be a real subculture forming around these things. There are many e-cigarette forums as well as informational and review sites, and I've learned a lot from them. Tricks and tips on how to get the most vapor out of an e-cig, modifications that can be made to improve airflow, flavor, operation, stretch the useful life of the hardware, and a lot more. Again, I strongly recommend anyone considering trying e-cigs do their homework before ordering because you'll find a wealth of useful information at these sites if you dig deep enough. Just throw "e-cigarette" or "e-cig" into Google and you'll find plenty of good resources, but of course use your judgment. As with all information available online, some sources are significantly more credible than others.

I chose Blu because of the price and because of the consistently high ratings and positive reviews I've seen. Sure, there were also some dissatisfied customers, but most of the complaints I read seemed to be about delayed shipping from around a year ago, when e-cigs were still brand-new and the FDA was stopping shipments coming into the US, claiming it was a drug delivery device. Apparently that's no longer the case. I've read, albeit through sources I'm not quite certain of the reliability of, that since this is a vaporized nicotine delivery system e-cigs have now been classified as a tobacco product and the FDA has no authority to regulate tobacco products (it's under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms).

No Excuses

Of course, I've never "vaped" before, so I still have no real idea if this will actually work for me, either as a substitute for real tobacco or as a way to completely quit smoking for good. I'm hoping for the latter, but I'll settle for the former. Either way, if I can successfully get off tobacco using an e-cigarette I'll be ahead of the game and will be able to accomplish at least my most immediate goal, getting my voice in shape for my show. Right now, at this moment, that's what I really care about most. I'll deal with breaking the nicotine addiction after I get my vocal range back.

One thing you hear all the time about quitting smoking is that without the right motivation the chances of failure increase dramatically. This time around, motivation isn't a problem, but as always, my weak point is the nicotine. I was able to last a couple of weeks smoke-free with the patches, but the moment I no longer had that crutch, the cravings came right back. With an e-cig to provide me with nicotine to stave off those cravings whenever I need it, I'm hoping that this time it'll stick.

I have to quit smoking. It's getting in the way of being the best I can be at what I love doing. Not this time. Smoking has held me back from doing a lot of things over the years, but it's not going to happen this time. I won't allow it. If an e-cigarette can do what I need it to do for me, then there are no longer any excuses. I'm gonna do it this time.

Eighth time's the charm.


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jay scott | June 10, 2010 3:31 PM

Chantix worked great for me, but results may vary. After a few days of taking it I just never wanted another cigarette.

It works much like an anti-depressant and messes with one's brain chemistry. If a person has a chemical imbalance in their noggin they probably don't want to use the product, but otherwise it works very well.

I wanted to try Chantix a while back because it worked for a friend of mine, but my doc would not prescribe it unless I first took an $800 blood test. Since I now have no doctor and no medical insurance, the cost of trying Chantix, with no guarantee it would actually work for me, would have been around $1000 or more, and that's just not affordable for me.

jay scott | June 10, 2010 4:48 PM

That blood test is probably necessary. One of my oldest friends tried chantix shortly after I did, In the beginning it was ok, but after a month or so of it she stopped getting out of bed, stopped going to work, didn't do anything but play world of warcraft and sleep.

If it goes bad it goes VERY bad, but if it works it's the best thing ever.

It should probably be mentioned here that World of Warcraft (WoW) itself can cause that all on its own without any medications. I lost many a friend and jobs while I was a WoW addict, and when I quit, I lost more friends that couldn't quit with me.

There is a real danger of depression and suicide with Chantix. For a community that has higher levels of depression - I would really caution using it.

I was a pack a day smoker for almost thirty years until three months ago. I had tried the patch, the gum,etc. but honestly, it was mostly because my husband of twenty years wanted me to quit. I knew it was bad for me and was ashamed I still smoked. But I "knew" that I enjoyed it and that I needed it. It helped me deal with stress. Or so I thought. It turns out I was wrong.

It turns out I had brainwashed myself and society and the tobacco companies had helped.
What I have learned is that feeling of peace and serenity you feel when you take that first puff until the fag is gone a minute later is the same way you used to feel all your life before you started smoking. What? Yeah, really, it's true.

How I came to this realization is due to the worst Xmas present I thought I had ever gotten! From my Honey. (God, how I hated it!) I didn't even pick it up for months. Then read a chapter or two after being harassed. I finally knew I had to do something after spending a sleepless night on a mountain top. I couldn't sleep because I couldn't catch my breath.

The book is called "The Easy Way to Quit Smoking" by some English fellow. If I can find it, I'll repost it. He is really a lousy writer. ("I am so wonderful for letting you in on my secret!" Blah, blah, blah...) But what he does is expose all the ways we have brainwashed and rationalized ourselves to believe we actually enjoy it. We don't.He also encourages you to keep smoking until you finish the book, because he knows if he doesn't, you will never finish the book!You will be ready to quit before you have finished the hundred and so pages because you're so pissed off at yourself for being fooled all these years. I freaked and still snuck some for a week after finishing it but to realize that the major part of my addiction was psychological bullsh*t, that I had been conned, I was done. It has no hold or attraction for me at all anymore. Sorry to go on so, but I really wish everyone who needs it will read this book! Love, Kelly

Zyban/Welbutrin and an ER Doc screaming at me helped me kick the butts. How ever you do it, I wish you success in quitting.

The Easy Way to Quit Smoking by Allen Carr. $14.95 from popular online retailers.

He also talks about the dangers of the various drugs and that nicotine in any form still has terrible effects on the body. And, you're still addicted.

I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, I would be happy to respond.

While I'm sure you're well intentioned in posting this, and I'd say thank you, most of the problems associated with nicotine addiction is caused by the burning leaf. The problem a lot of us vapers are having, is that there are benefits to nicotine use, too. Just as it's dangerous to drive, if we use seatbelts and dont drink while we're doing it, it reduces the risks. Electricity is dangerous, but if your house is wired with grounding in mind, you can reduce the risk. Taking the burning leaf out of the equation puts the dangers into an acceptable range. To say the "addiction" is dangerous, would be like someone saying people shouldn't drive or use electricity because they can kill you, and not allowing them to use it in a safer way.

I found out the hard way about Wellbutrin. It's the same drug as the anti-smoking Zyban, but you can't give Wellbutrin to a bipolar person or they go manic. What a way to find out I'm bipolar, eh?

Good luck with the e-cig. I've had a pull or two off of one and it seemed okay if a bit plasticy...

I've heard that complaint too, Bil, about the taste being somewhat plasticy on some e-cigs, but I've also read that it usually means that the juice in the cartridge is used up or almost used up, and it's time to replace or refill it. I'll definitely be testing that theory when it arrives.

I think my doc was concerned about depression issues as well. I did attempt suicide once before I finally sought out a therapist. I'm not bipolar, though. My depression was centered around a very specific issue and once I began the process of confronting and dealing with that issue, my depression began to lift and eventually disappeared. I've never been on anti-depressants or anything like that, so I didn't see that as a risk, but my doc wanted the blood test so he could feel sure before he wrote me a prescription for Chantix because of those risks. I don't blame him for wanting to be sure, but that requirement made it just too expensive to consider as a realistic option.

According to the tracking, my kit hit my local regional mail distribution center this morning, so I'm expecting it to arrive in today's or tomorrow's mail. Once I get it and use it for a while, I'm planning on writing a follow-up to this piece where I'll talk about how and if it actually works for me as a tobacco substitute or a method of quitting altogether.

I asked my hubby about this because he went down a very similar road and is now on Chantix. First of all, when I told him that you're trying Blu, he said that they are even more expensive than the e-cig he first purchased online... which itself turned out to be pretty expensive. He later found that cigarette stores sell e-cigs that are just as good but cost way, way less. I think the brand he purchased at the store was Trucigs.

In reality, switching to e-gigs is akin to simply switching your brand. After all, you're body is still getting nicotine, and you're still sucking on a cig, so the addiction is still being fed. The only difference is that some of the ill effects of cigarette smoking aren't there. As for quitting? After 6 months, he still smoked.

He is now taking Chantix and hasn't smoked in over a month... and he's doing great. When I told him what you said about the blood test and the cost, he was quite puzzled. His doctor did not require a blood test, and his cost for a 4-week supply is about $140 (insurance doesn't pay anything).

As for myself, I quit cold turkey after spending 4 days in the hospital due to a severe asthma attack. It's amazing how much such things will motivate a person!

I have not seen e-cigs sold in local stores here, but then I have not looked very hard either. I decided that the Blu offer was a pretty good deal compared to most and would at least give me an idea if this will be worthwhile for me. If I decide to continue with it, I will no doubt be investigating other options, as I know there are many.

Although he never came out and said it to me directly, I believe that my doc insisted on the blood test because I do have a history of attempted suicide (albeit only one attempt), and that makes me high risk for drugs that can cause or exacerbate depression.

My Mom quit instantly when her doc told her that she had COPD and would be dead within a few years at most if she didn't stop smoking immediately. That was her motivator.

My motivator, at least right now, is that I want my voice to sound its very best for my upcoming live talk radio show (by the way, live one-hour test show tomorrow, 7pm eastern, please join us). That's what works for me. I believe every smoker has their One Big Issue that motivates them to quit, and this is mine.

Allen Carr's "The Easy Way to Quit Smoking." I read it six years ago and haven't had a puff since. Stupid book, bad writing, but something in it just sinks in. Can't recommend it enough.

Well, so far I've had the kit for just over 10 hours and in that time I've smoked only five tobacco cigarettes. That's almost a 75% reduction of tobacco smoke on the first day. Not too shabby so far, but we'll see how it goes.

You can't smoke this thing like a regular cigarette, there's a technique to it. I'm literally having to relearn how to smoke. I know I'll have plenty to say about this in my next post on the topic, and I may even talk about it a little on the test show tonight.

Hiya Rebecca, just wanted to say welcome to the world of vaping. It's healthier, happier and cheaper than smoking, and that nicotine monkey still gets fed :-)
I have been vaping since the beginning of October last year and smoked my last cigarette a couple of weeks later, once I'd got used to the differences between smoking and vaping. Since then I can honestly say I haven't even wanted a cigarette.
I hope the vaping path works as well for you as it has for me.

Thanks Steve! I really do have high hopes, especially now that I'm starting to figure out what I like and don't like about Blu, and I'm about to start experimenting with filling blank cartridges with juice purchased at my current favorite e-cig site.

I'll go into more detail in my next piece, but anyone who is seriously interested in trying e-cigarettes should definitely check out the Totally Wicked site. Not only is there tons of good information to be found there, but the forum is a great place place to get questions answered. On top of that, this company boasts an amazing level of customer loyalty. I ordered my first bottle of juice from them because of their stellar rep and I'll talk about what I think of it in the next piece.