EDMONTON – One of the most common new year’s resolutions is to quit smoking, and some say “vaping” – a fancy term for using electronic cigarettes – can help.
What exactly are they? Small, cigarette-shaped canisters that are used to simulate the sensation of smoking. Batteries within the canisters heat up fluid-filled cartridges that then give off a vapour; from a distance it resembles smoke.
Some of the cartridges are filled with flavoured liquids, in cherry or menthol, for example.
Health Canada says it has not authorized any electronic cigarettes with nicotine or health claims. Nor are manufacturers allowed to sell e-cigarettes if their marketing material or packaging makes health claims – for instance suggesting that the product is a safer way to smoke or can be used as a smoking cessation tool.
While there is limited evidence the devices help people butt out, many say switching from smoking to vaping is not only safer – but cooler.
There’s even a new store in Edmonton, called LifestylE Cig, dedicated to the new trend.
“We don’t sell to minors,” said co-owner Atul Kalia. “And we don’t encourage anybody who doesn’t smoke to try our product…It’s geared toward people who are seeking a cleaner and safer alternative to smoking.”
E-cigarettes contain a battery-powered atomizer that produces a vapour from chemicals like propylene glycol, the same product used in theatre fog as well as antifreeze.
Rechargeable ones range from $50 to $150, while the disposable type costs about $7 to $10. In addition to being cheaper than regular cigarettes, both kinds reportedly last much longer.
Since the Whyte Avenue store opened last month, it’s sold about 25 to 50 units a week. The store’s best selling flavour is tobacco.
Hub Cigar sells the disposable type of e-cigarette, which look a lot like regular smokes. Manager Rachel Groner says the customers who buy them are all trying to quit the real thing.
“You got your visual cue: it looks like a cigarette; you even have the sensation cue: it’s light, has that soft tip; and then you have that cue of the smoke: it’s showing smoke – they think they’re smoking,” she said.
And for some, it seems to be working.
“I had a customer that came in and after two months of using this product, he was down to one pack a week from two packs a day for 45 years,” Groner added.
A New Zealand study found e-cigarettes were a more effective quit-smoking tool than the patch.
But how safe are they? Oncologist Dr. Randeep Sangha recently did a presentation for colleagues after noticing more lung cancer patients switching from smoking to vaping.
“Although it is probably safer than a normal cigarette – a normal cigarette has over 4000 chemicals and 250 carcinogens – the jury is still out on the sense of what the long-term safety is,” he said.
Sangha feels more research is needed, along with regulations for quality control.
He’s also worried about the e-cigarette becoming a gateway to smoking for those who try the fad.
“It looks kind of cool so they think they’ll give it a shot. But then they develop that behaviour, and then the transition to normal smoking might be easier,” Sangha said.
If you need help to stop smoking, try visiting albertaquits.ca.
With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News and Helen Branswell, The Canadian Press