Gina Hahn lost more than half of her friends a decade ago. Though they once bragged about their lifelong friendships, love affairs, and classic school days, when it came time to grow up – and in this case, snub out – Hahn and only a handful of the 30 or so failed to quit smoking traditional cigarettes.
Initially, Hahn, 32, said she was not particularly bothered by the newly health-conscious among her circle that affixed nicotine patches to their arms, or quit smoking cold turkey. Others, she said, developed smoking-related illnesses that made being around a smoker impossible. While Hahn missed their company, she enjoyed more the ability to smoke freely.
As a bartender, Hahn said she found it easy to work in smoke-filled environments like bars and nightclubs and once those bars, restaurants and other public spaces enacted no smoking regulations, found a ready supply of new friends huddled and idling outside the entrances of buildings, lighting up. But with the advent of the new electronic cigarette (also known as e-cigarettes), Hahn often finds herself outside, in the cold, idling alone.
"The doorways and balconies are emptying out in a lot of spaces as this new electronic cigarette becomes popular. I refused to ‘bite’ though," said Hahn, who smokes unfiltered Camels. "My friends have gotten older and, maybe, wiser and they’ve used the e-cigarette to stop smoking altogether."
E-cigarettes allow users to inhale vaporized liquid nicotine through a mouthpiece. The heater also vaporizes propylene glycol (PEG) in the cartridge (used to create theatrical smoke in stage productions), and the user gets a puff of hot gas that mimics tobacco smoke. E-cigarettes contain no tobacco products; and utilize synthetic nicotine.
Hahn is among the 50 million Americans who continue to smoke, understanding fully the dangers of smoking and those who aren’t yet sold on the e-phenomenon. Health experts believe the addictive nature of nicotine and other additives to tobacco provide some benefits smokers are unwilling to relinquish.
Brad Rodu, a Senior Fellow of the Heartland Institute, holds the Endowed Chair in Tobacco Harm Reduction Research at the University of Louisville’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center, and works to find safe substitutions to tobacco products that reduce what he terms "tobacco harm." Rodu said that in addition to reducing anxiety and stress, nicotine has the ability to lower weight, and improve concentration.
"It’s time to be honest with the 50 million Americans, and hundreds of millions around the world, who use tobacco," Rodu wrote, "The benefits they get from tobacco are very real, not imaginary or just the periodic elimination of withdrawal. It’s time to abandon the myth that tobacco is devoid of benefits, and to focus on how we can help smokers continue to derive those benefits with a safer delivery system."
Jeff Stier, a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., advises that while the nicotine present in both cigarettes and many e-cigarettes, is addictive, is not in and of itself, harmful. The danger comes from burning and inhaling tobacco, which is done with cigarettes but not e-cigarettes. Calling nicotine about as harmful as the caffeine in soda, Stier supports e-cigarettes as a tobacco harm reducer.