As I write, I am vaping — yes, that’s the word — inhaling an odorless vapor from a plastic facsimile of a cigarette, battery-powered, bought for $10 at a local store, and good, it is claimed, for 400 puffs. The business end is fashioned to look like a filter. In another nod to nostalgia, the tip glows as I inhale. It’s not the real thing, nothing like. Plastic is neither leaf nor paper. It holds no memories of that old bar down on the Lower East Side, that conversation once upon when. There’s no tobacco, no combustion, none of the warmth, none of the evocative transience, none of the mouth-feel of cigarette or cigar, and it looks just a bit dumb. Walk into Rick’s with an e-cigarette and Rick would laugh. Then again, Bogie died at 57.
Whatever the aesthetics of e-cigarettes, as nicotine-delivery systems go they are a lot safer than the cancer sticks of old. There’s no carbon monoxide, no tar, very little, in fact, of tobacco smoking’s carcinogenic stew. To be sure, the Food and Drug Administration has detected tobacco-specific nitrosamines (a carcinogen) in the e-cigarette cartridges that contain the treats to come. A 2009 study revealed about the same quantity of TSNAs in cartridges as might be found in a nicotine patch, a total about one-nine-hundredth of the level found inside Joe Camel. The vaper (I know, I know) will inhale an even smaller portion, a tiny fraction of a minuscule amount. Furthermore, TSNAs were the only carcinogens detected in this study. Boston University’s Dr. Michael Siegel, a 25-year veteran of tobacco-control work (and a Centers for Disease Control alumnus), has noted that smokers of conventional cigarettes may inhale maybe 40 other carcinogens, not to speak of “thousands of [other] chemicals.”