Thus Far: My Vaping Journey
I quit cigarettes a long time ago but they were once my closest companion. I never loved the taste, but there was something about doing it that made me physically feel good. Years later, I understood the science behind why cigarettes make people feel the way they do. But having both of my parents die from cancer kept me in a heightened sense of awareness about what was being sucked into my lungs; so I quit. But I missed the ceremony of it and, unbeknownst to me then, missed the nicotine as well. Some years later, I took up smoking cigars but not inhaling. The ceremony was back, albeit fewer times a day, and I figured that it was healthier than smoking cigarettes due simply holding the smoke in my mouth. I was wrong on that. Still, I carried on for many years with a still-expensive habit, trying to keep myself away from people at festivals, concerts and parties while I lit up a big, stinky, pluming cigar. It also took a lot of time away from other activities, like making music or socializing; a cigar is an investment of time and I enjoyed sitting and puffing, contemplating life and surfing the web on my iPhone. Deep inside, I felt like I could do better. I was starting to get sick of it, just like with cigarettes. The following chronicle charts how I progressed through what I term "The Five Stages Of Immersion" with e-cigarettes in just five months. Hopefully it will help give you some insight on what to expect should you decide to dive into using e-cigs or if you're on the path and ready to dig deeper.
Stage 1: Test The Waters
Cut to June of 2014 and I'm tooling through the Ohio countryside in Rita searching, as usual, for a cigar store so that I could stock back up on sticks. I smoked a lot more when driving and with my increased touring schedules over the past few years, it was noticeable just how much money I was spending on cigars at $2-6 dollars apiece. Trying to save money was always on my mind, not to mention that nagging sense of self-damage that ran contrary to my generally healthy lifestyle. Cigars were an anomaly in the grand scheme of my existence. Lucky for me, this particular cigar store had something I'd never seen before; a Jazz eCigar.
For $20 (about what I'd pay for 20 low-grade cigars) this thing promised 1,800 puffs and I wouldn't be getting all of that tobacco laced with carcinogens. Plus, I wouldn't smell like Ernest Hemingway all the time (I'm just assuming the man smelled like cigars, because he smoked them so much. Who knows what else he smelled like? Paper and typewriter ink?)
I began puffing on the thing straight away and, though the vapor production wasn't anywhere near the fanciful swirling of a decent cigar, I figured it would help me cut back on cigar smoking and give me something more tasteful and polite to use in the company of others. The tip lit up blue with each puff. Kind of a signal to others that "hey, mellow out, this ain't real." And knowing that, I bought a load of cigars anyway.
Stage 2: Find Satisfaction
The next month, I had just finished my annual marathon gig (8+ hour show) at The Garryowen Irish Pub in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. My friend Kristy Sproul had driven down from Milford to come see the performance and we planned to hang out, catch a battle re-enactment and then head to Dorney Park for some recreational coaster-riding. As we stepped down Chambersburg Street, I noticed a store called Gettysburg Vapes almost right next door to the pub. Knowing that my eCigar wouldn't last forever, I decided to go inside and buy a couple more with my tip money. The store was warm and inviting with glass cases ringing the edges. Inside them were all kinds of gadgets, some of which I've seen people using on occasion. I'd never had an interest in the whole eCigarette thing and was always surprised, like others, when someone let loose with a big waft of vapor in some non-smoking area, only to discover that it wasn't the real thing. So, I passed by all of that without much of a look, took out my eCigar and asked the guy behind the counter if he had any of these for sale.
He replied no, they didn't, and suggested a few places in town where I might find one. He was very helpful, friendly and didn't try to sell me anything that was under the glass. I stood there for a second looking at the hardware and then asked the fateful question: "okay, so tell me about this gear."
I walked out of there about 40 minutes later with an EVOD-twist variable voltage battery, a Kanger Protank Mini 3 atomizer, 5 coils, a charger, two bottles of 6 mg eJuice and a complimentary carrying case for it all. Cost about $110. That was tip money well-spent.
Thus began my vaping journey and, suddenly, I was in an entirely new world. The flavor of the eJuice was extraordinary (Butterscotch was one flavor, Afternoon Delight was another), the ability to take a puff when I wanted, without having to be committed to an hour-long short term relationship with a cigar, was freeing. And the shininess of the tech - well, I've always been kind of a gadget guy, so the neatness of it was nice as well. No ashes, no harshness in the throat, no bitterness of tobacco leaves on my lips. That was July 6th, 2014 and I haven't had a cigar since.
Of course, I delved online and began researching everything that I could about e-cigarettes, their potential health benefits and deficits, science and operation, logistics and economics. Fascinating research made while puffing away on a delightful little purple stick of great-tasting fun. In a nutshell, I discovered that the vaping revolution was a little like the Great California Gold Rush of 1849. It was an unregulated industry, terrifically popular and everyone wanted a piece of it. My reading list grew as long as the miles I was traversing this summer, every night's pre-bedtime reading included copious amounts of study on manufacturing, distribution, usage and scientific papers alternately touting and condemning their use. It was exciting and edgy with just a whiff of dangerous giddiness. But I felt safe using what was termed an "e-pen." The desire for cigars gently blew away like a cloud of vapor. I vaped my way through the miles, through theme parks and while kicking back in Rita, noticing that when the battery died, I was left hanging until it could charge back up again. So, I picked up a second battery, the eGo-C Twist.
Stage 3: Pump It Up
Somewhere in Michigan, I stopped at a shop called Boosted Vapor with the intention of picking up some more eJuice. With my cigar humidor empty, I began stocking it with the flavored liquid that provides e-cigarettes with its vapor. At this store were some more of those wild, futuristic-looking devices that I just had no intention of getting into but was still mildly curious about, especially after having read up on them. The owner showed me the iTaste MVP 2 and demonstrated its resiliency by promptly dropping it upon the ground. It had a variable voltage setting like my other batteries, but also a variable wattage setting as well. On top of this, it had a digital readout with ohm meter, puff counter, battery level indicator and a USB port so I could charge my phone and it came with two iClear tanks. $39 bucks. Sold.
In one month, I had made the leap from Stage 1 (disposable e-cigarettes/cigars) to Stage 2 (e-pens, spinners, etc.) to Stage 3 (box mods) and was noticing a definite improvement in vapor production and flavor. I knew what the next step was and absolutely had no interest in going there and, to be fair, I didn't for a very long time. The iTaste was delivering the goods in a big way and, more importantly, I was beginning to feel better. My throat wasn't all scratchy and full of phlegm, my breathing was deeper and clearer and I had a considerable upward swing of energy. That and both Rita and I smelled a hell of a lot better. For the rest of the summer, and into the fall, I no longer stopped at cigar stores. Just the occasional vape shop to pick up eJuice and coil cartridges for the atomizers.
Stage 4: Building Your Own Coils
I kept tabs on my spending to see if this new-found solution was going to be better or worse financially. With my gear set, my only expenditures were eJuices and coils. Still, I was dependent on retail stores for some supplies. Cheaper than cigars, but I knew that there was a more cost-effective solution so I warily turned my eye towards Stage 4 and decided to take the leap into RBAs.
Rebuildable atomizers are not for beginners. They require a certain degree of skill, patience, knowledge of electrical laws and did I mention patience? With RBAs, you build your own coil instead of buying one pre-made. Whereas a pack of 5 coils can run you upwards of $11, a 25' roll of Kanthal A1 resistance wire will run you around $4 and some organic cotton for wicking will cost about $6; both of which will keep you in coils for months. There's an art to the craft, wrapping the wire into a coil, attaching it to the deck, wicking it with cotton, priming it with eJuice, testing the ohm level, I mean, you can see why I was wary about going into this stage. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But once you get the hang of it, you're saving a ton of money, not to mention being able to customize your vaping experience. In October, my first RBA was the Fogger v4 ($22). To power what are called sub-ohm coils (below 1 ohm), you need a device called a mechanical mod which is just a casing made of aluminum, brass, steel or copper with a firing pin and containment for a battery (protected 18650 batteries are standard use.) Again, this is not an easy-going, la-de-da pastime. It can easily cause serious injury if you're not well-read on the matter and I'd spent a few months digesting hundreds of articles. Felt I was ready to save even more money and increase my knowledge on the subject.
Suffice it to say, it was at first frustrating and then intensely rewarding. Vapers talk about "tasting your juice" and, when you get to Stages 3 and 4, the stuff you were trying to taste at the first two stages just pales in comparison. This is why many cigarette and cigar smokers try to quit by using what I call "gas-station e-cigs" like Blu and fail miserably. The e-pens are a much more satisfying replacement for cigarettes and there are tons of eJuice brands out there from stuff that actually tastes like tobacco to so-called "dessert vapes" to no flavor at all. There are also different levels of nicotine that you can purchase in the interest of getting your fix and then lowering the content until you've got no nicotine in your system at all. Many vapers use 0 mg nic levels and just "chase clouds" for the pure fun of it, plus the inherent geekery of the tech, building and modding. There's a huge subculture that's deep into it for the sake of IT while others simply want to quit smoking. There's room for everyone in the vape culture.
Stage 5: Making Your Own eJuice
I took another look at the costs involved in November and found that, since July, I had spent less on vape gear than I had in the previous six months on cigars. Good to know that this was a sustainable solution both economically and physically. The only big cost left was the eJuice. Retailers can command $1 per ml of juice, which when you add it up, can get very expensive. So, I took another leap and ordered 1 liter each of VG (vegetable glycerin), PG (propylene glycol) and 100 mg liquid nicotine. With a handful of concentrated flavorings like butterscotch, vanilla, egg nog and New York Cheesecake purchased for $4 per 15 ml bottle, I got into making my own eJuice and have thereby taken the whole matter into my own hands. Projected costs on supplies for coil and juice making are 1/8th what they were for buying cigars and altogether not only better for me, but I also can rest easy on the quality control knowing where my supplies are coming from. I'll state here that liquid nicotine is dangerous, highly toxic stuff when concentrated. All manner of care needs to be used when handling and storing it. DIY juicemaking can be fun and great for your pocketbook, but common sense and caution need to be on deck when it comes to this particular substance. Just sayin'.
My Advice To Those Who Are Considering Vaping
I shared with you this chronicle of the past five months so you can get an idea of how your own journey might flow. I didn't put all the details down here, explaining the ins and outs because there are far better websites out there that can give you the skinny on the community. A great start is the E-Cigarette Forum. Another good read is The Ultimate Beginners' Guide To Clearomizers (another word for atomizers) and check out The Ecig Alternative, which contains research and studies on e-cigarette use and is a good place to start if you want to begin your own research on the effects of e-cigarettes.
If you're a heavy smoker and want to make the switch to e-cigarettes, I highly recommend skipping Stage 1 altogether (forget those gas-station disposables and refillables - they won't satisfy you at all) and going straight for an e-pen. Brands will vary in features and ergonomics but I'd comfortably direct you to something like this basic set-up:
• Variable Voltage Battery (1100 - 1600 mAh)
• Carrying case or lanyard (to wear around your neck)
• eJuice (18 -24 mg of nicotine if you're a heavy smoker - between 6 and 12 mg if light smoker)
If you want to jump right in to Stage 3 and REALLY amp up your flavor and vapor production, then you'll want something like this:
• iTaste MVP 2 (or another variable voltage/wattage regulated box mod) charger included
Then, I'd recommend chilling with that and seeing how it works for you. Experiment with different levels of nicotine content, different flavors or no flavor at all. Maybe try different tanks if you read about one that seems to be more effective. It's a highly customizable endeavor and you're the only person who knows what you're looking for. Just do a little reading, educate yourself on how to do it and you'll find yourself rewarded with better health and more money in your pocketbook.
In all honesty, while there has been a great deal of research done on the industry, the general consensus on health benefits or detriments of e-cigs is still out. The community is in "wait-and-see" mode on many fronts, but the down-to-basics science of what we're doing points to a far healthier lifestyle than one that involves tobacco combustion and smoke. One of the things that I enjoy most about vaping is the fellowship with vapers and non-vapers alike. While cigarette smokers may gather in groups and blow clouds during the course of their day, you very rarely hear conversation starters like "hey, what kind of cigarette is that?" or "you're smoking a cigarette, good for you!" With vaping, it's not uncommon for fellow vapers to inquire what flavor eJuice I've got in the tank, or where I got my mod from or just a well-wished "vape on!" Former smokers will often come up and ask questions such as "how is that working for you?" Current smokers have inquired about how to get started. There is such a general good feeling surrounding vape culture, at least where it involves people who are trying to make a change for the better in their life.
Some of my friends, including Gary Gallier, Stephen Seifert, Wendy Songe and Larry Wisse, are vaping now as well and we share info, chat and compare notes on the industry and our experiences with it as it continues to evolve and grow. As a consensus, we're of the mind that this is certainly a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes and/or cigars and we are encouraging all smokers to consider this route in order to prolong their good health and save a little money in the meantime. So, my e-mail box is always open and there is no such thing as a stupid question. I hope that someday we can all just quit the nicotine altogether but, in the meantime, this sure is a tasteful way to live.