Denise Allan

An E-asy alternative in the battle to quit smoking?

Lighting up: Controversial e-cigarettes catching on in Cowichan

The dawn of a new year brings with it new hope for the future and for many of us, triggers the desire to make positive changes in our personal lives.

For many, the battle to quit smoking is number one on the health hit parade.

A new and controversial tool in the war to help folks butt-out is the electronic cigarette or vaporizer.

These are small electronic devices that simulate tobacco smoking by using a heating element to vaporize a liquid solution. The user then inhales (and exhales) the vapour in virtually the same way a smoker would inhale (and exhale) tobacco smoke.

The main difference being with an e-cigarette, there is no smoke, just a mostly water- based vapour, thus eliminating a vast majority of the carcinogenic chemicals produced when tobacco is combusted.

Experts are divided on the merits and health risks associated with e-cigarettes, although nearly all agree that more research and testing is needed.

There are two very different types of e-cigarettes currently available; those that contain nicotine and those that do not.

In the refillable nicotine-type vaporizers, the liquid vapourized and inhaled is made up of propylene glycol (a chemical long used in everything from foodstuffs, to cosmetics, to pharmaceuticals), vegetable glycerin, concentrated flavouring and nicotine.

For many chronic smokers, discovering  e-cigarettes or “vaping,” has been a life-changing experience, allowing them to live smoke-free for the first time in many years.

Many smokers have literally been through all the quitting methods: cold-turkey, groups like “Smokenders,” nicotine patches and gum, hypnosis, acupuncture, laser therapy and prescription medications such as Zyban (an anti-depressant) and Chantix (which blocks the nicotine receptors in the brain.

All have helped some people reach their goal of becoming a non-smoker, but for some nothing has worked until now.

Locally, non-nicotine e-cigarettes can be purchased at places like Tiptons Gas Bar and The Depot. At the Depot — the new bottle depot located next to the Cow Café — owner Denise Allan chose to sell “Ice-cigs,” another non-nicotine type of e-cigarette.

“My husband and I saw them on Dragon’s Den and they’re so hard on the people, but the Dragons all loved them. We figured it was a win-win,” said Allan. “The company is out of Calgary and it’s two young guys in their late twenties.”

The non-nicotine Ice-cigs look very much like a conventional cigarette. The tip actually glows red and the water vapour cloud exhaled looks almost like smoke, although it dissipates almost immediately with no odour or residue. They are available in regular and menthol flavours, as well as a mini-cigar style product.

E-cigs range in price from about $7 to $10, with each one containing the equivalent number of puffs of a full pack of conventional cigarettes. They are non-refillable and disposable.

“They’ve been selling pretty well and we’re getting repeat business with smokers saying that they really help in kicking the habit,” said Allan.

For the hardcore, nicotine-addicted smoker, refillable vaporizers have proved popular. These do not look like a conventional cigarette, but deliver a puff of vapour containing nicotine to help alleviate the urge to have a “real smoke.”

“It really has been an effective tool to help people give up smoking,” says Terry Pfeifer, owner of NoTarr Solutions of Duncan. “We’ve been selling e-smokes for a little better than two years and their popularity has really grown.”

The “e-juice” used in these vapourizers comes in dozens of different flavours and varies in nicotine strength from strong, right down to zero nicotine.

“All our e-juice is from the Canadian company, JC Classic and it’s made from safe ingredients. Distilled water, flavourings, vegetable glycerin and Propylene Glycol. PG has been used in foods and medicine for over 50 years,” said Pfeifer.

Laker Juanita Thompson was introduced to the e-cig by her sister. As a long-time smoker, she is thrilled with the changes since she took up the alternative six months ago.

“For me it’s changed my life, literally changed everything. I feel better, I look better; I have more energy and can breathe again. It’s like I’m aging in reverse now,” said Thompson. “I started in July of 2013 from smoking just under a pack a day and my e-smokes made it so easy. I’d recommend it to anybody.”

The economic benefits for a smoker opting to switch over from an $8 or $10 pack of cigarettes, to using a refillable vaporizer to get their nicotine hit can be a major incentive.

“Besides the health benefits of no longer inhaling cigarette smoke, the cost of the habit drops down to about $30 to $50 per month,” said Pfeiffer.  “A lot of people have also quit smoking cigarettes, then gradually moved down in the strength of nicotine in their e-juice till they’re at zero nicotine, then passed on their e-cig kit to a friend or relative.”

The debate over the health concerns, addiction issues and safety of using e-cigarettes is markedly divided. Many are demanding that there should  be extensive testing done to determine the long-term effects of vaping and that they should be regulated, and/or banned.

Others say they provide a less harmful alternative to smoking for people already addicted to nicotine. One well-publicized concern is that young people will take up e-cigarettes and become addicted to nicotine, being lured in by seeing celebrities using the products and also by the many flavours that e-juice comes in.

Health Canada “advises Canadians not to purchase or use electronic smoking products, as they may pose health risks and have not been fully evaluated for safety, quality and efficacy.”