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Smoking Everywhere(?) July 19, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Odds and Ends, Technology.
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Over dinner somewhere in Mountain View (CA) a few months back, as conversation shifted to the topic of “So what do you do for a living?”, one of the wife’s friends mentioned he’d been busy setting up a business selling electronic cigarettes.

That merited a double take. Electronic cigarettes? The concept didn’t quite compute. Yet as if in anticipation of our unspoken question, our acquaintance beat us to the punch with one of his own: “Haven’t you heard of Smoking Everywhere?”

In reality, the concept isn’t nearly as odd as it sounds. It’s a plastic cigarette that looks like the real deal, but in place of the filter is a nicotene cartridge that releases vapors of the substance directly to the person inhaling. Yet to keep up with the fiction that it’s similar to a cigarette, the white tip (where a regular cigarette is normally lit) instead contains a red LED that glows when the person inhaling takes a drag. No carcinogens and no tar: just a direct infusion of nicotene as and when needed.

If it sounds like a cross between a cigarette, Star Trek’s hypospray and an asthma inhaler, that wouldn’t be too far off a description.

The geek in me can’t help but marvel at the technology. But as a person who can’t stand cigarette smoke and has had to tolerate smokers most of his life, I have to ask whether this is at all a step forward. Obviously, such a newfangled nicotene delivery system carries with it the distinct advantage that, as the name implies, the cigarette can be “smoked” anywhere. There’s a resulting mist after one takes a drag (or so I observed), but one absent the offending odor that accompanies conventional cigarettes, and dissipates quicker, to boot. Further, it does represent one way to wean people off smoking altogether — or so the sales pitch goes — without being nearly as inimical to one’s health.

Precisely because it goes into uncharted territory — it’s like smoking…but it’s not! — it creates its own set of social quandaries. Should these be acceptable indoors and in “no smoking” areas just because no carcinogens are involved? Is it a good idea to employ electronic cigarettes in order to get people to quit? In short, is the growing trend to frown upon smoking (less pronounced in countries like the Philippines, but more so in some developed countries) based on fiat and social norms more than anything else?

I can’t say that an easy answer to these questions comes to mind. But my attitude towards this is pretty much the same as my attitude to smoking in general:

If non-smokers can get along without nicotene in their systems, then there’s no reason smokers can’t do so either. And electronic cigarettes as a means to wean off the real thing and give up the habit? Please. In my book, there’s only one way to quit smoking: quit smoking!

[Smoking Everywhere]

[Vapor War: Our Irrational Hostility Toward Electronic Cigarettes (Slate, via The Journal of Murketing)]

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