We asked a most distinguished gentleman about vaping, and his reaction was one of extreme offence, at such a distasteful implication of obscenity. Naturally, he had never heard of vaping before. He is not alone.
Although it has been around for years, vaping is very familiar to the very young, to smokers, former smokers, or those who wish to quit the habit.
That was primarily the idea behind the invention of the e-cigarette to help smokers wean themselves from tobacco.
A smokeless, non-tobacco cigarette, what a ground-breaking invention.
It was first patented in 1963 by Herbert Gilbert, but failed to take off. Credit for the invention is attributed to Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik who patented the first nicotine cigarette in 2003. It was manufactured in China for the local market, but was soon to become an international favourite.
A small, battery operated device that allows you to inhale vapored nicotine, stimulating the experience of smoking, without this malicious tobacco, malignant tar and other toxic substances. What does the “e” stand for? It is short for an electronic device that heats a liquid, producing a vapour, an aerosol mix of particles every time you blow, and that is when vaping was born.
It was not long before young, underage, high-school and mid-school kids were puffing away at a variety of “eees”, which came in different shapes, pipes, pens, phones, lipstick tubes, and other everyday items, small enough to fit in your palm and hide from parent or teacher.
Its popularity grew exponentially and even adults who tried it were hooked for a very good reason. It contained nicotine — high amounts of nicotine — but no tobacco. Is not tobacco the curse of the century?
Nicotine was the primary reason for its overwhelming popularity and the explosion of vaping, but it contained a good deal more harmful substances. Nobody cared as the industry continued to grow and the revenues to pile up.
As if this was not bad enough flavour was introduced by a company named JUUL started by 2 young Stanford graduates in industrial design. They recognised they had a groundbreaking opportunity to apply industrial design to the smoking industry which had not materially changed in over 100 years. They designed an e-cigarette in the shape of a USB flash, small, attractive sleek. Its pods pack as much nicotine as one or two packs of cigarettes.
Slick and debonair, they also added flavor, strawberry, candy, chocolate, vanilla, juices, it was heaven, for young and old. JUUL soon captured three fourths of the market since they started in 2015. Kids were now JUULing.
The good news did not last. Deaths occurred that were attributed to vaping. Diseases of the lung, pulmonary and respiratory diseases mounted. More than 450 cases of severe illnesses were related to vaping, parents began to panic.
Last week, the US government banned the sale of flavoured electronic cigarettes as it was severely affecting the health of the young. It is a huge economic blow to a market that grossed $1.16 billion in 2018. The Vapour Technology Association comment: “It would force people to smoke again or find what they need on the black market.”
A study conducted by the University of North Carolina found that even a small dose includes two primary ingredients propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin expose users to high levels of toxins. The more ingredients you inhale, the more toxicity.
The US government is to be applauded for its positive action to preserve the health of its youth. Teenagers are unaware of the effects of vaping on their brains and lungs caused by the ultra-fine particles they gleefully puff on, which contain diocetyl, benzene and the heavy metals, nickel, tin and lead. Most of these victims take up smoking when they reach the legal age.
Vaping has exploded but not among the people it was intended for. Its sale is banned in most countries, yet there are over 45 million vapers worldwide. About 5.7 trillion e-cigarettes were smoked in 2016, with China smoking the lion’s share of 40 per cent followed by the US, Canada, the UK, France and other countries which supposedly ban its sale, but not its use. Does that make any sense? It is illegal to sell, legal to blow.
With a sense of mingled amazement and amusement, we are dismayed that e-cigarettes are so restricted because they can be harmful and tobacco which is indisputably deadly, killing 67 per cent of its users, is legal and highly accessible. Why not ban it altogether?
Tobacco is legally sold in every country in the world even after decades of understanding its harm. Even the consumer, knowing he might diminish his lifespan by 25 years keeps on puffing.
What charm is there in inhaling a poisonous substance? Has not tobacco outstayed its welcome.
Oh no, governments cry. “The power to tax involves the power to destroy.” Citizens are free to choose their vices, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, fast food, soft drinks, this is the sign of freedom.
To those addicts who invented a smoking cessation device, the electronic cigarette, well, it has not fulfilled its purpose. Now they are enjoying both and including the children too. The high prices of cigarettes have brought more enthusiasm to “e” and what if 750 million die this year of tobacco consumption, or want if we lose a billion lives this century due to tobacco and smoking. Business is booming, right? Right.
“If the human race wants to go to Hell in a basket, technology can help it get there by jet.”
Charles M Allen
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.