My Acceptable E-Cigarette Addiction
Quitting smoking took forever, but now I'm hooked instead on my shiny electronic cigarette.
I was first introduced to electronic cigarettes three years ago. My flatmate at the time had a 40-a-day habit, and was unsuccessfully attempting to give up smoking every six months. A new boyfriend of hers arrived at the flat one Saturday afternoon with a gift-wrapped box from Harrods, within which sat the device. A white stick, it resembled a tampon in both size and shape, complete with an orange tip that glowed when dragged on, allowing the user to inhale and exhale water vapor which looked like real smoke and actually gave you a hit!
'You could really give up on these!' we marveled. We seriously considered quitting for about 10 minutes, before promptly continuing to smoke properly for the next two years.
The smoking ban was first enforced in the UK in 2007. Initially, it made smoking more fun. Smokers united—standing outside in the cold to feed our habit made us all comrades. It became quite acceptable to start a conversation with a perfect stranger, rather than having them vetted through the tightly knit London social circles. 'Smirting' became a word. There are statistics saying that 25% of Irish couples who started a relationship during 2007 met while smoking outside. Smirting was so much fun that even nonsmokers were joining the gang outside. My father and uncles had given up smoking decades before, but if I was looking for them at a wedding, I’d find them outside with the smokers. "The craic is better out here," they’d tell me. "The smokers are jokers," I’d also hear frequently. (Stands to reason, if you smoke, you're more fun.)
I soon noticed I’d developed a full blown nicotine addiction rather than the one I was used to which had previously punctuated particular parts of my day.
A few happy years sped by in this way and then, very suddenly (apart from the odd night out with the still-up-for-it crowd) smoking just stopped being quite as exquisitely acceptable as it used to be. Friends started having babies. They brought them to pubs! Suddenly consideration was expected in place of reckless behavior.
Embarrassed and foolish feelings ensued at dinner parties with the growing non-smoking crowd. I’d spend the evening eager and anxious to head out for sweet nicotine relief but mentally weighing it's the worth versus the humiliation of standing in a garden the size of a postage stamp, illuminated by security lights as if on a stage, not unlike an animal in a zoo, then overloading on tic-tacs before returning.
Still, that wasn’t enough to stop me—I simply loved smoking. First thing in the morning with a cup of coffee was a personal favorite. It would accompany me strolling through London on sunny days listening to my i-pod, console me on days traipsing through sodden streets in the rain, keep me company while waiting for a bus...not to mention long summer nights outside a bar with girlfriends, table strewn with glasses of white wine and plentiful packets of Marlboro lights.
It was the guilt that got me in the end, the sleepless nights wondering, "What am I doing to my body? It’s killing me, painfully and slowly, I’ll not see old age," as I coughed and hacked up the excesses.
I tried gum, patches, and appointments with a specially assigned nurse and anything else that came my way. None of it helped. Two weeks into another attempt, I realized that I wasn’t happy—I didn’t like myself, anyone or anything else at all. I doubted I’d ever be able to give up. As one friend put it that first Friday night at the pub as "non-smokers" (while we watched our boyfriends chugging away on cigarettes out in the rain), “It’s as if the fun has been sucked out of everything!”
A week later I was on edge, irritable and thinking of nothing but smoking. I was working in an office in Chiswick and marched 25 minutes in the rain to the tube station, arriving in a zombie-like state in Knightsbridge. I navigated my way through the vast halls of Harrods till I found the Pharmacy, located in a corner of the basement tucked away behind the luggage department. I used the last dregs of my credit card to purchase a Starter kit for £50.00 It consisted of two batteries, a charger and refills in a variety of flavors and strengths all wrapped up in a shiny black box.
Manufacturing had improved drastically in the last two years. No longer were they as large as a tampon. Instead they were light, the same size and shape as a regular cigarette and available in a range of aesthetically pleasing designs. I chose the shiny chrome with a blue glowing tip. Nicotine satisfaction ensued. I felt elated. I headed out to our regular bar on the Kings Road and stunned friends with my fabulous new toy, allowing everyone to try it. (My excitement won out against my germ-aphobia.)
At first I kept the gadget limited to social smoking—weekends and the odd weeknight out for drinks. “I only use it when I’m drinking,” I’d tell inquisitive friends. Soon my answer was, "when drinking or stressed.” Suddenly I found excuses to find myself socializing or drinking or feeling stresses more frequently. My little chrome device managed to forge its way into my hand as a constant companion. My boss didn’t seem to notice the odd cheeky drag at my desk every now and then, so I soon began ‘smoking’ away freely while pretending to be busy at something.
My online orders to the distributers became more frequent and much more expensive. I began spending as much on the re-fill cartomisers as I had on heavily taxed cigarettes. I soon noticed I’d developed a full blown all day long nicotine addiction rather than the one I was used to which had previously punctuated particular parts of my day. People would ask, and still do, if the e-cig contains nicotine. “Oh yes,” I tell them. “I’m on the highest strength available.”
My distributers failed to live up to the demands of my increased orders. Deliveries would arrive late, sometimes containing incorrect flavors and strengths. I’d pace around waiting for my nicotine fix, asking our security guard and receptionist to call me the minute the parcel arrived. Due to the unavailability of the product in shops (I prefer the apple flavor, only available online), I realized I was at the mercy of the distributors so I found a new one.
That day was as elating as the first trip to Harrods. Not only was the product as good as my former distributor's but they were cheaper, and promised next-day delivery. Hell, they even sent me a text with an allotted time when to expect my goods—and they haven’t been late yet! I do feel rather foolish with it, and I am now as bored of describing it to people as I am of telling them why I am a vegetarian. I even hold the thing apologetically, not like I would a real cigarette: rather I cup it in my hand, blowing the smoke downwards so as to conceal the act.
However, when all is said and done, I absolutely love my new and improved method of smoking. I haven't smoked a real cigarette since January 6, 2012. But my e-cig is never far away; it's beside me as I type.
In the end I didn’t have to forgo one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve asked every doctor I know if it could be damaging. Some older doctors tell me no, it’s just water vapor—the nicotine isn’t great for me, but it's similar to caffeine in coffee (though I've yet to meet someone who holds a cup of bottomless coffee in their hands all day long).
So yes, I am entirely addicted. Younger doctors tell me that there is no evidence linking e-cigs to health problems, yet. I hear the emphasis on the yet. I also suffer from the occasional sore, dry throat and shortness of breath, which sometimes cause me to wonder—yet not worry—of the effects it may be causing.
I sleep well in ignorance. Perhaps in the same way that my grandfather may have slept before tobacco was linked to heart disease and cancer. I plan to reduce the strength of my cartomisers. I plan to cut down.
I can give it up any time I like though. Right?
Jacintha McGahon is a writer based in London.