I spent my earliest years in a non-smoking household and was a poster child for the anti-smoking educational programs of the 1970s–even though my parents went back to smoking after they got divorced. Though I had friends who started smoking as young as ten, I never even tried it, and was proud to be a non-smoker.
Though I didn’t become political about my dislike of smoking, I was always just as happy to have any new law passed that meant I wouldn’t have to breathe smoke: no more smoking on airplanes, in restaurants, in public buildings. Never mind the lung cancer and the heart disease. If people wanted to kill themselves, that was their business, but I hated to be around smoke. I’m not allergic; I just dislike it.
Naturally I was fated to marry a smoker.
I won’t say that I was immediately thrilled when he discovered electronic cigarettes. I didn’t know whether e-cigarettes would work for him; and I didn’t know whether they would work for me, either. I was reluctant to let him use any kind of nicotine-emitting device in the house, and being as heartless as most non-smokers, I didn’t have nearly as much sympathy as I should have when he was forced to go out in the rain to smoke.
But the vapor was inoffensive. The smell was faint, and it dissipated quickly. Since he found he preferred the coffee flavor to the imitation tobacco flavors, it was almost pleasant. And once Himself moved from “cigalikes” to a battery-and-tank combination, something amazing happened.
He went out to have a cigarette in the morning (he was still smoking a couple of times a day at that point) and came back coughing and making faces. “That tasted horrible,” he said.
“I keep trying to tell you,” I replied.
Of Course, Flavors in E-Cigarettes
In the time since then, my husband has adopted vaping first as a hobby, then as a cause. Not only has he undergone physical changes (by December he could walk up a hill without getting out of breath), he’s made social connections and developed a sense of commitment to something beyond himself that he didn’t have before.
My husband is a better man for vaping, and as a result of it, I’ve been exposed to a lot of alarmist media reporting about the alleged evils of e-cigarettes, particularly the repeated claim that the manufacturers of e-liquids (sometimes known as e-juices) are marketing to children because they make nicotine available in flavors like cotton candy and gummy bear.
Now, there’s been plenty of discussion among vapers about why this is BS, with two popular counter-examples: flavored vodka and flavored condoms. Personally, I’m very fond of flavored coffee (vanilla, chocolate, caramel, butterscotch toffee). Coffee is another product not normally consumed by children, and when I was a child, coffee came in two forms: caffeinated and decaffeinated. Now flavors are everywhere, both in the coffee grounds you buy and available to be added at the cappuccino bar. Americans love flavors, period. (Perhaps Americans are all children, but that’s another post.)
But the discussions I’ve heard all seem to overlook that basic fact which every non-smoker knows, every smoker suppresses, and every vaper rediscovers with astonishment: tobacco smoke tastes terrible. The only reason smokers have put up with it all this time is that they didn’t have a choice.
Oh, sure, you’ll hear smokers tell you that part of what they like about smoking is the taste. My DH said that to me once or twice. I regarded that statement with the frank disbelief it deserved. I can understand having a desperate craving for nicotine. I can even believe that, separated from the toxicity of smoke inhalation (and marijuana may have amazing medicinal properties, but there is no kind of smoke it is beneficial to breathe), nicotine may have valuable therapeutic properties that haven’t been properly explored. But that cigarette smoke tastes good? Only someone who has destroyed his taste buds with 20 years of smoking could say so.
So when you can have nicotine taste like anything at all, why would you choose the taste of burning tobacco leaves?
And in fact, it turns out that tobacco is a very difficult flavor to synthesize. There are tobacco-flavored e-liquids, some of them popular, but I’m told that the flavor and experience are different from smoking. Maybe it’s the lack of tar.
The flavorings used in e-liquids come from the restaurant industry. Who orders a dessert that tastes like tobacco? That would be no one. So you can have a lousy tobacco flavor or a nice mango flavor. Or peach flavor. Or apple bourbon flavor. Or vanilla custard, or whiskey. Or, as I told the committee hearing on AB1500 this morning, frosted oatmeal cookie, which is my husband’s current favorite.
And, finally, there’s the fact that vapers are enjoying a sense of taste for the first time in, very probably, decades. Sure, there may be a few kids who are curious, but the mass of people who are vaping, and certainly the ones who are investing in e-liquids, and definitely the ones ordering online (unless they are already masters of identity theft, in which case their parents had better watch out for their bank accounts), are middle-aged adults who smoked for years and might never have intended to stop.
They just started to get their taste buds back along with their lungs, and they want to exercise them.