Getting his cut…

On July 1st, the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act goes into effect. In theory, this law makes it more difficult for organized crime and terrorists to sell tobacco products on the black market and helps “protect the children.” The reality is that PACT bans shipping tobacco products (excluding cigars) by US Mail and mandates that online sellers validate proof of age at the time of sale and collect applicable state and federal taxes. It also requires that shippers like UPS verify the age of the recipient on delivery. In effect, what PACT does is make it nearly impossible to turn a profit on selling cigarette alternatives without pricing yourself out of the US market. In effect, PACT protects the American tobacco industry from foreign competition and encourages those who smoke to continue doing so by making safer alternatives much more difficult, much more expensive, or altogether impossible to procure.

This troubles me not just because I oppose taxes on a philosophical basis, but also because it was several of these alternative products that helped me put down my last cigarette a month ago tomorrow. When electronic cigarettes proved to lack the requisite “kick” I needed, I did what most good historians do and got busy with the research. Fortunately, I found several forums that led me to Swedish snus.

In Sweden, it’s regulated as a food product and despite 40 years of ongoing studies in that country, they have not been able to link snus with an elevated risk of cancer. Because it’s steam pasteurized instead of smoke cured (they way American tobacco is processed), the tobacco used for snus is basically the textbook definition of a “safer” alternative. It caries a warning label here in the States because the U.S. government doesn’t quite know how to regulate it… and before PACT, they were losing tobacco tax revenue to the small, but growing user base who ordered their product directly from Sweden.

Those days are coming to a close and I’ve laid on a stockpile large enough to see me through at least the next two years without much trouble. After that, Uncle is going to make sure to get his cut and this safer alternative is most likely going to remain undiscovered by the vast majority of people who ever consider having a go at quitting. It’s a shame, really. There’s every chance that I’ll never be stopped for good, but for now I’m (mostly) proof that the alternatives can work… even when you’re not planning on it.

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Something unusual…

Something unusual happened Saturday evening… For the first time in 12 years I ran completely out of Marlboro Lights; none stashed in the freezer, or in the glovebox, or in the pocket of a coat I haven’t worn in a few weeks. I was well and truly out of cigarettes… except for the pack I had left over from my trip to Italy  two years ago and that was stale when I bought it. After two years, I think I can safely label that one for decorative/historical purposes only. I had my Baskin Robins-esk assortment of 32 flavors of cartridges for my e-cig and a just-arrived-in-the-country shipment from my new friends in Sweden, so I wasn’t particularly worried about going into fits before I could get out to the Tiger Mart on Sunday.

Sunday came and went and I went to Kroger to restock the fridge. I filled up the tank at the Tiger Mart. And I was home putting the groceries away before I realized that I had actually forgotten to pick up more smokes. Much to my surprise, this wasn’t cause to immediately drag myself back out of the house. It was more a moment of “ehh, I’ll pick up a pack on my way to work tomorrow.” Tomorrow turned into today and I made it to the office with the help of General Mini Mint portions and realized it was 11:30 before even thinking of taking a smoke break (that’s only really impressive, I suppose if I mention that smoke breaks usually roll around at 8, 9:30, and 11 like clockwork. At that point, I popped a portion of Ettan, took a few pulls on my e-cig, and assumed I’d just pick up a pack on my way home.

Well I’m home now and we’re getting on past bedtime and I’m still out of smokes. That’s not to say that I’m on the wagon. I know that I’m probably always going to be one bad day or even one bad minute from having a cigarette. I’m predisposed towards addictive behaviors and have been for as long as I can remember. I don’t imagine there’s anything that will change that. I won’t delude myself or try to fool anyone into thinking that I’m off the juice. E-cigarettes are basically untested, but hold promise, and Swedish snus, at least in the research available, appears to be a significantly lower-risk alternative to smoking, so I’m still feeding the beast. I’ll wake up tomorrow at the beginning of my third smokeless day. How I end it mainly depends on environmental factors that are beyond my control and my response to those stimuli, which is entirely within my control. It’s good to have options and since cold turkey has never been something within my reach, I’ll happily settle for “safer” (and cheaper doesn’t hurt either).

I know I’m spending alot of time writing about this, but since cigarettes have more or less defined my waking actions and driven my schedule since I was 19, that’s to be expected. It’s a massive change in lifestyle and in though process and I want to capture a permanent record of it as it happens. One thing I promise is that no matter what happens, I’m not going to become a zealot or a crusader. I’ll record my experiences and thoughts, interesting tidbits I pick up along the way, and I’ll report them here. Anyone reading can decide their value or lack thereof for themselves.

What kind of month has it been…

I’ve have my new e-cig hobby for a little over a full month now (my Vapor4Life kit arrived on January 21st). At first, I got interested in e-cigs as a non-taxed alternative and primarily as a way to save money overall. Yeah, do the math and 1.5 packs per day x $5.50 per pack x 365 days per year end up at a little over $3,000 a year not including days where I burned up well over my “assumed” 1 and 1/2 packs. Even testing out my e-cig by laying on lots of new and interesting flavors, picking up accessories, and more batteries, it was obvious that I was saving money and therefore meeting my goal. Not to mention that my cigarette intake was down to about 5 a day at it’s low point and there were some days when I would’d have an “analog” at all. And then something unexpected happened… That number started creeping back up and some days would get back within striking distance of a pack a day. So not only was my old habit coming back, but I was keeping up with my new one too… That’s a cost saving measure only a government could love.

It seems to me that although I was getting the nicotine by body tells me I need, there was something missing in the e-cig that my long-standing relationship with Marlboro was giving me… I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that when something contains more than 4000 chemicals, more than one of them may have addictive qualities. And as we all know, I’ve rarely met a bad habit I didn’t want to have for myself. My point here is that I didn’t start this thing with any intention of actually giving up cigarettes, but the last month has taught me that e-cigs and analogs don’t make good company, at least for me.

Because I’m a historian by nature and by education, I set about to find what others have done who faced same situation. What I discovered was that while some people turned in their lighters after their first e-puff, a great many have needed something extra to get over the proverbial hump when the big cravings hit. What that “something” seems to be for many e-cig users is Sweedish snus, a smokeless tobacco product that most reputable studies show is far fewer long-term health effects than the burning tobacco in cigarettes (and no, it’s not snuff – check out a WSJ article on the topic if you’re interested and/or bored). A tin of snus has the added benefit of still being much cheaper than a pack of smokes and a “hit” tends to last more than an hour in use so a tin could theoretically last for days.

I’m still a big proponent for the e-cig and it’s going to be my go-to delivery system for nicotine for the foreseeable future… but for those couple of times a day when the urge goes over the top, I’ve got a package inbound from Sweden that may just be what I need to fill the gap. For now, I’m trying to learn all I can on ye olde forums: http://www.snuson.com.

Hitting empty…

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: I am a creature of habit. Things that mess with my habits are generally best avoid for all parties concerned. It very rarely ends well. It’s a position that gets even more tricky when two deeply ingrained habits come into conflict with one another. For instance tonight, my 12 year old cigarette habit is coming into direct conflict with my hatred for leaving the house once I’ve made it home from work (seriously, getting me out of the house on a weekday takes an act of Congress or at least a Federal holiday).

Being a smoker means being prepared in a way that would make a Boy Scout proud… Never letting your stockpile run out and always keeping fire at your fingertips. Today I broke the smoker’s cardinal rule: I burned up my last one without making sure I had a pack held in reserve. It’s been that way since just after lunch and I just now realized it, passing the time with my laptop-turned-hooka and the assortment of new batteries and flavors that arrived from my e-cig vendor this afternoon. That was well and good when I wasn’t thinking about it, but now I’ve realized it and it’s starting to make me a bit twitchy.

The second factor at work, and the one that is presently winning the day, is having no earthly desire to get out of my fuzzy slippers and actually leave the house to go get a fresh pack. That means at worst, it’s twelve hours without a smoke… and I couldn’t tell you the last time that happened. It was probably some time before I started. For tonight at least it seems like I’m an ex-smoker (but more and more a wild-eyed “vaper” (i.e. one who uses a “personal vaporizer” or e-cig). I don’t know if it will stick or even if I want to give it up completely in favor of vaping full time. Driving past the trusty old Circle K may prove too much of a challenge in the pre-dawn hours, but that’s all a few hours off yet. In the meantime, I’m settling in for the night with a new cartridge of Cuban Cigar flavor. Yum!

GreenSmoke…


I picked up my first cigarette the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college. As I recall, I was working on campus at the Summer Planning Conference – basically shepherding incoming freshman around campus and making sure they didn’t burn the buildings down during their three-day stay. During the three days between sessions, there may have been some drinking. Actually, there was definitely drinking going on and that’s also where I learned to love Sam Adams Cherry Wheat and rum in its many varieties. Of course that’s beyond the scope of this tale. With the timeline set, that means I’ve been smoking more or less regularly for about 12 years (although it doesn’t seem like nearly that long).

About 48-hours ago, my newest toy arrived. The GreenSmoke electronic cigarette is going to take some getting use to over the next few days. What I’ve noticed so far is that it’s really not all that much different from the old “analog” smoking habit. It doesn’t pack quite the same punch as the real thing, but that may be a function of having ordered cartridges with too low a dose of nicotine. Aside from that, I’m not noticing any particularly bad physiological issues. No headaches or dry mouth; no problems sleeping; no cravings bad enough to make me want to chew my own arm off. The only down side I’ve found in the first 48 hours is the battery life of each e-cig leaves quite a bit to be desired. With a battery necessarily being so small, it’s easy enough to see why they can only hold a few hour of charge. Still, I could see getting caught with a dead or dying battery being just as terrifying as being caught with only one or two smokes left in a pack. The solution, I suppose, is to bring on extra batteries and chargers and stash them around strategically. They even market a USB pass-through device that basically lets you tether your cigarette to a laptop. I’ll be looking into that one as it seems like a good compromise solution until battery technology catches up with the concept.

The reason I know this thing might actually work is that on an average day I would usually smoke somewhere around 30 cigarettes. Yesterday I had six and probably had the same number today. Without my new favorite toy, I would have had that many before 8:00 on a weekday morning. I’m not saying this is the best solution available, but if I can get my fix almost anywhere, save money over the long run, cut out all or most of the additives, it seems like the beginnings of a no brainer. I’m not foolish enough to call this a change in lifestyle after only 48 hours, but I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s definitely a good thing to have so many of the perks, but so few of the drawbacks.