I used the Blu starter kit for about two weeks. It was a decent introduction in the world of "vaping," the popular term among e-cigarette users to distinguish e-cigarette use from tobacco smoking. That said, using Blu has its advantages, but also its disadvantages as a potential replacement for tobacco cigarettes, many of which I discovered over the course of using it.
What I Like
First and foremost, using Blu enabled me to cut down my tobacco smoking by around three-quarters. I was a pack-a-day smoker, but using Blu I managed to make a pack last almost three days on average. I've noticed that I'm already breathing better and my voice is slowly regaining its range and tone.
Blu is compact and easy to travel with, with all the essential parts fitting into a well-designed charger case about the size of an average cigarette pack. The pre-filled cartridges are simple and easy to use and replace. The batteries are easy to recharge with the included plug-in and USB chargers as well as the charging case.
Despite the blue LED which lights up each time a drag is taken, Blu seems pretty unobtrusive when used in public settings and I was never hassled for using it in areas where tobacco smoking is banned, though admittedly I didn't test this more than once because it's actually illegal to do so in my home state. Thanks to the clearly uninformed and politically motivated knee-jerk reaction of the New Jersey legislature, e-cigarettes were recently added to the state law against public smoking making them illegal to use anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited, even though e-cigarettes produce no secondhand smoke, have no smell, and are far more difficult for underage users to obtain than actual tobacco products.
I also like the convenience of being able to use Blu in places where I'd never consider smoking tobacco cigarettes, such as in front of my computer, behind my microphone, or around people who dislike or are sensitive to secondhand smoke.
What I Don't Like
Using Blu isn't at all like smoking a tobacco cigarette. For one thing, the vapor it produces isn't anywhere near as much as the smoke you get from a tobacco cigarette. I discovered that I can increase the amount of vapor produced by covering a couple of the air vents, but even then it's not even close to comparable (and I've read that doing so can damage the hardware).
Despite claims by the company that each Blu cartridge is equal to a pack of tobacco cigarettes, the truth is that this claim is so overblown it's fair to describe it as an outright lie. At best, each pre-filled cartridge provides enough puffs to equal perhaps five tobacco cigarettes, but in my experience it's usually equivalent to three or four at most. In less than a week, I've gone through almost the entire carton of Blu pre-filled cartridges included with the starter kit, which the company claims should be equal to two-and-a-half cartons of tobacco smokes. No frakkin' way.
Additionally, using Blu can't be done in the same way as smoking a tobacco cigarette. I've found that if I'm lucky I could get about three or four solid drags at a time from Blu before I have to reset the e-cig back in the pack, stand it upright, and wait a few minutes for the juice to drip down so that I can take a few more drags. For me, it ruins the experience of vaping and makes it more likely that I'm going to reach for a Marlboro.
I find myself spending more time preparing, charging and generally messing around with the thing trying to get it to work right than I do actually using it. It's getting the job only partly done and it's a pain to maintain. Needless to say, I'm just not happy with Blu because it's not reliably doing what I need it to do for me.
Conclusions and Next Steps
The best thing I've gotten from using Blu is that I've learned that I actually enjoy vaping and that it can potentially, at minimum, completely replace tobacco smoking for me. The problem is that the Blu hardware wasn't reliable, consistent, or providing a satisfying enough experience to for me to completely give up tobacco smoking yet. It was only a couple of days after starting with Blu that I began looking to see if there was a better way to go about this. What I learned caused me to rethink just about everything I'd believed about e-cigarettes up to that point.
In the course of my research I ran across a website for a company called Totally Wicked. I'd run across it in my first round of research but didn't really see it as a viable option as the website is highly stylized and flashy and seemed at first glance to be offering nothing more than overpriced luxury versions of standard e-cigs. This time, however, I'd been advised to check out this company from several users who'd responded my inquiries and told me that if I really wanted the best vaping experience that this was the company to buy from.
I poked around the Totally Wicked site for a while and discovered that yes, the products they offer are somewhat more expensive than Blu and similarly-priced products but their quality and capabilities seemed to be correspondingly higher as well. I clicked on a link for their discussion forum, where users can interact with each other and ask questions about e-cigarettes, vaping, the products the company offers, and a lot more. I posted an introductory message which received a multitude of welcoming responses offering help and advice. It quickly became clear to me that Totally Wicked is a company that caters to serious, hardcore e-cigarette users as opposed to those who are merely looking for a convenient and socially acceptable tobacco substitute. Through interacting with these folks as well as continuing my research I decided to order some blank cartridges from Volcano and some juice from Totally Wicked as the price was reasonable and I wanted to see how their quality and customer service is for myself.
Interestingly, I ordered the Volcano cartridges late Sunday night and the Totally Wicked juice the following day, but the cartridges, which shipped from Honolulu, got to me a day earlier than the juice, which shipped from Florida. I suppose that could just be a quirk of the US Postal Service because both companies shipped the orders I placed quickly. Volcano shipped within 24 hours of my original order as promised on their website, and Totally Wicked within 48.
In filling my own cartridges with the new juice instead of using the pre-filled ones I noticed a marked improvement in the flavor, the amount of vapor, and the nicotine "hit," but the limitations of the Blu hardware, particularly being able to get only one or two solid drags out of it before having to set it down again for a few minutes, continues to limit my enjoyment of vaping and therefore its effectiveness for me as a replacement for tobacco smoking. I decided that my next step would be to upgrade my hardware.
I've ordered a new starter kit, this time from Totally Wicked featuring one of their most popular products, called a Tornado. While it works pretty much exactly like an e-cigarette, this device is far more robust and really more of a well-designed nicotine inhaler than something that can credibly be called an e-cigarette. For one thing, it really doesn't look like much like a cigarette at all, nor does it seem intended to. Indeed, Totally Wicked doesn't even call it an e-cigarette but rather an Electronic Nicotine Imitation Cigarette or E-NIC. It's about the size of a medium-sized cigar fully assembled, and can become even longer if dripping accessories popular with hardcore users are added.
I'm told that using the Tornado will solve the problems I've been having with Blu, that it delivers far more vapor with each drag consistently and the larger and much more powerful hardware will enable a user to vape for about six hours continuously on a single charge. Like Blu, the starter kit comes with two batteries, enabling the user to continue vaping with one battery while the other one charges.
Along with the starter kit, I've also ordered what's called a Mega-Charger, which will fully charge a Tornado battery in just ninety minutes instead of the up to four hours it can take using the standard wall outlet charger supplied with the starter kit, an extra atomizer as a backup for the two included with the kit, and a bottle of one of Totally Wicked's premium Patriot Range e-liquid flavors, Cherry Cigar.
While this order cost more than double the price than the Blu starter kit, it's still less of a financial outlay than just two weeks worth of tobacco cigarettes, and unlike tobacco smokes, or "analogs" as e-cigarette users call them, it won't need to be repurchased from scratch every couple of weeks. Some of the parts which make up the Tornado, such as the atomizers and the batteries, do have limited lifespans and will need to be replaced from time to time, but with nowhere near with the frequency or at the price of smoking tobacco cigarettes. Similarly, vaping the Totally Wicked juice is a far more cost-effective way of getting one's nicotine fix than buying a comparable number of cigarettes, even with the price of the hardware factored in.
Totally Wicked shipped my order even faster this time, about twelve hours after I'd placed it, and it arrived four days later. I've been using the Tornado for a few days now, and I'll talk about that in the third and final piece in this series.