Out With the Old, In With The New Smokes

By Jeffery Self

Originally published on Advocate.com November 06 2013 4:05 AM ET

When I was a budding homosexual, I used to hold a pen up to my mouth in my childhood bedroom and fantasize that I was a fabulous person who smoked. No matter how many D.A.R.E. after-school specials you showed me, I knew that the glamour of a cigarette outweighed the harm of its effects.

These days, the cigarettes in the hands of the fabulous are beginning to look a lot like those pens did back in my childhood bedroom. That’s because orange isn’t the new black; e-cigarettes are. E-cigarettes heat up nicotine vapor to be inhaled, but they don’t produce the ammonia and arsenic, among other scary chemicals, found in cigarette smoke. E-cigarettes aren’t risk-free but the addictive nicotine in cigarettes isn’t what causes health problems—unless in incredibly large doses. It’s the toxic chemicals that are created when filler products and tobacco burn together in cigarettes that cause cancer and other diseases. Some see these little gateway devices who will become new cigarette smokers, but others see them as a healthier alternative for current smokers.

This new way of smoking is so new that we won’t understand its effects for quite some time, but it may prove to be  a far less lethal practice than smoking cigarettes. Even so, in an effort to reduce all smoking, the World Health Organization recommends a ban on any suggestion that electronic nicotine vaporizers are safer than cigarettes. The European Parliament just rejected legislation to treat e-cigarettes like tightly-regulated pharmaceuticals, but did ban them for buyers under age 18. The FDA has said it will release regulations for the products soon.

Smoking has its allure—it offers a few minutes to step outside of ourselves, it’s kind of meditative—but the danger is hardly news. Smoking cigarettes is reckless; the smell, yellow teeth, the obvious health risks, just for starters. A lot of LGBTs (we smoke at higher rates than the rest) are beginning to shy away from traditional smoking for the less carcinogenic, less smelly e-smoking. The alternative is not just an aesthetic choice.Users can purchase nicotine concentrations for e-cigarettes that some say allow them to step down from, and ultimately off nicotine altogether, allowing them to quit. Former Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, rather controversially, joined the board of directors for NJOY e-cigarettes in 2013, telling the Associated Press, “If we can find a viable alternative that gave us harm reduction as people are withdrawing from nicotine, I’m happy to engage in that science and see if we can do that.” And harm reduction may be possible so long as most e-cigarette “vapers” are smokers or ex-smokers.

The jury may still be out on the health effects. But if they have the potential to reduce death and disease, they’re worth further investigation. Add that to the fact that when you light them up, you feel like you’re in a James Cameron movie. Take that, Marlboro Man.