You don’t see them that often and when you do (mainly in restaurants or cafes after the smoker has had a kerfuffle with the owner about why they are puffing out small clouds of smoke indoors) they usually elicit all sorts of interested clucks and gasps and ‘can I have a go’s’. Yes, that’s right, the electronic cigarette. Touted as a way to give up, cut down or wean yourself off real cigarettes with a hit of liquid nicotine and none of the harmful tobacco.
Having encountered them being successfully used by a couple of friends – in that they never seem to put them down, but do keep off the real cigarettes (until they run out of fresh cartridges, that is) – I thought it high time my rollie-smoking other half gave one a go. Courtesy of Nicolites, a brand that looks pretty much identical to a real cigarette and has an LCD light that lights up when you inhale (you can get different LCD colours and different strength cartridges), we received a packet with two cartridges in the post, all ready to go. Two cartridge equate to about 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine and when the cigarette runs out of power you stick it into a USB port on your laptop to charge it up. Nice and easy, right? And surely super-easy to exchange your regular cigarette for this tobacco-less option, posits the wide-eyed non-smoker.
I guess in the case of my boyfriend, I hadn’t fully understood the psychology of his smoking habit. While his initial puff on the Nicolite elicited a smile and a satisfied nod with the nicotine hit, just an hour later I found him delving into his bag of Cutters Choice deftly preparing a rollie to go for his habitual five-minute outdoor break in the garden. It dawned on me that a big part of his smoking habit was the ritual of rolling with the assorted paraphernalia of filters and papers and then stepping outside for an externally set ‘time-out’. While I have no doubt about the efficacy of the electronic nicotine hit, the handiness of being able to get your hit when you are stuck somewhere you can’t light up (planes, trains and indoor environments of numerous descriptions), plus the bonus of no tobacco damage, the fact that there is no ritual associated with the electronic cigarette (whether that be rolling one or even just lighting a regular cigarette – striking a match, sparking a lighter, or even better, having someone else chummily/romantically/off-handedly doing it for you) could pose a problem for anybody other than the most committed giver-uppers.
Do they work? Yes, I think the electronic cigarette is an excellent alternative to a real cigarette as long as the smoker in question sets a framework of use: is he/she going cold turkey, how often and when are they going to smoke the electronic cigarette and how many cigarettes are they going to cut down per day/per week? Psychologically, this is going to be more of an effort for those who are caught up with the ritual and time-out dimensions of smoking and perhaps this is something electronic cigarette companies should think about addressing – maybe adding a timer that signals the end of your cigarette break, or something like that.
Are they cool? In my opinion, yes. There’s still something quite space-agey and futuristic about electronic cigarettes and, as long as you see trying to be healthier, kicking a bad habit and implementing your will-power as a cool thing then, double yes. All it’ll take is someone like Ryan Gosling in Drive to tote one and the electronic cigarette will break on through big-time.