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.
For 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).
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.