The past year may very well have been the rosy "Camelot" period for e-cigarette use.
That's because there were few restrictions on the use of the products in public or in private. But that's rapidly changing, as the slow-to-react tidal wave of health officials, big government, and big business recognized that e-cigarettes were gaining in popularity and, by gosh, something had to be done about that.
First, a brief primer for those unaware of the e-cigarette. The e-cigarette began in China around 2004. Although they come in all shapes and sizes, all e-cigarettes are basically designed to heat flavored cartridges, vaporizing a mixture of glycol, synthetic nicotine, and whatever additive flavorings you desire. Once this mixture is heated, the user inhales a smoky gas that resembles tobacco smoke.
The e-cigarette offers such exotic flavors as coffee, chocolate, pina colada, and anything else you can imagine. The basic e-cigarette, which can look like a cigarette, cigar, pipe, or one of those long holders that guys wearing monocles favor , goes from around $100 to $200, with refill cartridges available that vary in price, but are generally around $10 for a five-pack.
The beauty of the e-cigarette until recently was that there were no laws restricting its use.
The beauty of the e-cigarette until recently was that there were no laws restricting its use. Unlike tobacco users, who are banned from most public places and forced to hide in alleys and doorways, e-cigarette users can indulge in restaurants, offices, airplanes, and anywhere else they desire. Sure, they can expect a lot of grief, since there's no way to distinguish e-cig smoke from tobacco smoke without detailed inspection. But after a few back and forth threats, most complainers will usually slink away defeated, knowing that there was nothing they could do to stop the e-cig smoker. The e-cig user was within their legal rights to proudly puff away.
Consequently, e-cigarettes became big business, headed toward a $4 billion annual industry, according to the New York Times. And that's before the e-cigarette brand really penetrated the public mind. Now, with celebrity-studded commercials, and studies indicating that the e-cig can actually help wean tobacco users away from more harmful regular cigarettes, the sky appears to be the limit.
Not So Fast
But heading into the new year, the e-cig party is starting to get some noise complaints from the neighbors. On December 19, the New York City Council voted to subject e-cigarettes to the same regulations as tobacco smoking. Chicago, Los Angeles, and many other cities and states are considering similar bans, with international counterparts also sounding alarms. The Food and Drug Administration says it has an "active investigation" into e-cigarettes, and the usual array of health advocates, consultants, and hand-wringers is starting to kvetch that more studies need to be done on long-term use, which is usually code for "we need grant money so we can keep the doors open."
Still to be heard from are the army of e-cigarette fans, who are colloquiolly known as "vapers," a play on the "vapors" created from e-cigarettes. Many of them will cite a study by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, which was the first to measure e-cigarettes against the more established nicotine patches as a way to quit tobacco smoking.
That study found that there are similar proportions of smokers who remained abstinent from tobacco smoking for six months after using patches or e-cigarettes. Of those in the trial comparison, more participants said they would recommend the e-cigarette over the traditional patches as a solid method to quit smoking.
What that means is the vaping community can avoid the argument that they are merely indulging themselves. They can claim that they are doing it to stop tobacco smoking, and why would anyone want to stop that?
As the battle unfolds over the next year, it's likely that the same Puritan laws against public displays of indulgence that govern alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and other forms of sensuous delight will begin to kick in. But, for now, in many places across the US, e-cigarettes smokers can blissfully puff away and proudly blow smoke in the face of anyone who complains.