Adventures in Vaping

Boy, this one is going to take some ‘splaining. I have, for quite a while, been watching the vaping (smoking vapors produced by e-cigarettes and other devices) scene. While I am not interested in ingesting nicotine (see below), I looked at it as an interesting and fast way to consume caffeine – anyone who knows me knows I am terrible in the morning, requiring at least two double cappuccinos and sometimes a caffeine tablet as well just to think clearly enough to know which end of the keyboard to type on, and an energy drink in the afternoon to avoid napping at my chair. Since inhalation works so well for other drugs, why not caffeine? It should hit the system much faster entering through the lungs than through the digestive track…and trust me, in the morning I’m all about how fast I can wake up and feel alive.

(Explanation of my fear of nicotine – I am a smoker. Ok, it is true that I haven’t had a cigarette since the day my daughter was born in 1998, about 10:30am outside the Hershey Medical Center to be precise; but I still consider myself a smoker, just as a smart alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in decades never considers himself “cured.” My addiction to nicotine was very difficult to beat, lasting a year-and-a-half after my last cigarette – and like that recovering alcoholic, I know I am always only one drag away from a two-and-a-half-pack-a-day habit. I have no interest whatsoever in ever going through that again.)

More after the jump…

Ok, so the parameters are, no nicotine, just caffeine. And I was fine thinking and wondering about it with no particular impetus to do anything about it…until the idiot legislatures and governor of my state decided to make vaping illegal…ok, not really, they are just taxing vaping supplies and juice (“juice” is the liquid that is placed in the e-cigarette and vaporized, providing flavor, thickness for the inhalation, and of course the drug itself) at a whopping forty percent, putting most of my local mom-and-pop vape shops out of business. I suspect this was sold as a “sin tax” by the anti-smoking Nazis, do-gooders that abhor smoking not because it’s bad for you, and not because there’s an issue with second-hand smoke, but just because they need to assert their superiority – they don’t care if smokers quit or die, they just want them punished before they do. Of course, vaping removes practically all of the toxins from “classic” smoking, and regardless of the long-term effects of Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerin (studies really are needed), it has to be better for you than smoking – and an early anecdotal study in Briton suggest that e-cigarettes help smokers quit. A more rigid study from the Royal College of Physicians in England also suggests they have 5% the risk of smoking. So Pennsylvania’s “sin tax” is doing the exact opposite of it’s stated intended goals, and is in effect propping up cigarette sales in the state and adding to the health-care crisis that is the cigarette. But then boneheaded, ill-conceived, and regressive taxes are nothing new for this state, y’know?

Anyway, this goes into effect on October 1st, so I figured I’d better hurry and do my experimentation now before the jack-boots come to claim their pieces of silver. (What will I do if I continue vaping after October 1st? Not telling.) Because until then I can purchase vaping supplies by mail, I did so; hitting FleaBay and finding a cheap starter kit (e-cigarette) and nicotine-free vape juice containing caffeine from two different vendors for around $13 total, a budget I could handle. I chose the cappuccino flavor (duh!), even though most of the “energy” juices are designed to taste like energy drinks.

(I am not providing brand or website information, because I’m not sure I want to advertise vaping supplies. Understand, these folks were great, selling supplies inexpensively and shipping faster than I would have imagined; but still, going to hold back on the company names for now.)

I also researched the whole Propylene Glycol (PG) vs. Vegetable Glycerin (VG) debate. I won’t get into that whole thing here (there are lots of places on the Net to read the minutiae), I decided that VG seemed “safer” by-and-large than PG (yes, I know, PG is in asthma inhalers, but it’s linked to health issues for cats) so I chose an 80%VG – 20%PG juice base. No, not for cloud-chasing (I leave it to the reader to look that one up), just because it seemed a safer alternative. Admittedly, it is more likely to “gunk-up” the cheap e-cig’s coil, but then I didn’t spend under seven bucks on an e-cigarette expecting it to last 20-years, either. This is an experiment, remember? And I can always thin the juice out a bit with distilled water anyway.

Ok, so the stuff comes in the mail, I open the packages, double-check to make sure the juice is listed 0% nicotine on the label, and start charging the e-cig’s battery. There are no real instructions with the device, but a few taps on the seller’s real (non-auction-site) website provides instructions for use, although none for cleaning the tank. It never occurred to me the juice would be wicked to the coil by tiny cotton twine, which I assume makes changing flavors at least in this device neigh-on impossible.

Battery charged and tank filled-and-primed, I head to the back yard (shouldn’t vape in the house, since Kate has two cats and PG does have links to health issues in felines). Tap the power-on five times to turn on the battery, exhale, and while pushing the button, mentally drop backwards over eighteen years and bring some of the vapor into my mouth.

Not much going on. A little sweetness, no real flavor. I expel the vapor. Did the same thing again; bring the vapor into my mouth without inhaling, hold it for a moment, and expel. Ok, time for the main event; bring a mouthful in, and breathe deeply…

Still not much going on. It does not have anything like the sensation of smoking…there’s no roughness to the throat, no tightness in the chest, not much of anything other than heavy air. I exhale through my nose so I can get a full hit of the flavor, and, again, not much. There’s sweetness, but no real cappuccino flavor…no real flavor of any kind.

So, to be completely blunt, other than the odd nostalgic flashback of seeing something similar to smoke leaving my nose and mouth, it all seems rather…anticlimactic.

To gauge the effect of inhaling the caffeine, I take three more “hits,” discovering if I hold the button down immediately at inhale I get less vapor than if I pre-heat for a second or two prior to inhale. I don’t feel any particular added alertness, my heart rate doesn’t increase, and I want little more than another swig of coffee. Really, it’s all rather boring…not particularly pleasant, neither is it unpleasant. My anxiety was wildly misplaced…this is neither something I would do for fun, nor avoid like the plague.

My concern is the lack of additional alertness. The experiment requires me to vape during the day whenever I start feeling tired (like most adults in America today, I don’t get enough sleep) to see if it acts the same or better than a cappuccino (which has less caffeine than a regular cup of coffee, not more as most people believe). Would be really nice if it came up to energy drink levels, since when I’m really tired 8 oz. of energy drink seems to do the trick for me.

Which brings me to the rest of day #1. I am forcing myself to hit the back yard every time I start felling tired, and grabbing 5-10 hits off the e-cig. And “forcing” is the proper word, since every time I do, I end up coming in and making a cappuccino, or drinking a few ounces of energy drink as I mentioned. And again, I’m not suggesting it’s “bad,” it just is feeling more and more like a waste of time – other than the exercise I’m getting walking to the back, it isn’t doing anything apparent. Nothing positive, nothing negative, just…nothing.

But since this is an experiment I am dedicated to seeing through for a few days, I soldier on. Day #2, I decide to up the ante a bit; this will be my first caffeine of the day. I wander to the back yard, fire up the stick, and…you know, after the second hit I really do feel more alert…don’t know if this has anything to do with adding a few drops of distilled water to the tank or not, but it’s a pleasant surprise. It’s not a heart-palpitating caffeine overload, just a sense of alertness, not unlike a cup of coffee or a caffeine tablet, but considerably faster. This is closer to what I was hoping for when I began the experiment…something that would get me awake and alert speedier than the half-hour-ish timeframe of the normal ingestion methods. Still, I come back into the house, anxious to pull and enjoy my first cappuccino.

Regarding the taste…still no coffee flavor in the cappuccino-flavored juice. Truthfully, it tastes like nothing so much as mildly-burned cotton candy…it’s sweet yet hot-tasting, the sweetness lingering on my lips for a while after inhale, but I’m afraid my dreams of a cappuccino-flavored vape are dashed. Again, it is not the unpleasant flavor of burning leaves associated with smoking (no one who is being honest can say they enjoy the taste of a cigarette, which regardless of flavorings like menthol is basically akin to licking yesterday’s fire pit), but it ain’t coffee, either.

Today is also the day I decided to try DTL…and yes, the vaping community actually has acronyms for how the juice is inhaled, good grief. Anyway, this particular self-important and frankly silly-as-hell acronym stands for Direct to Lung, as opposed to MTL (Mouth to Lung). For those readers who have never smoked, this may get really confusing; when you light a cigarette, you draw the burning smoke into your mouth, and then inhale that. Smokers are rolling their eyes that I have to explain it, but if you’ve never smoked, you might think a smoker draws it directly from the burning end into the lungs. That would, dear reader, pretty much immediately kill the smoker.

Anyway, that is what the vaping community in an apparent need to suddenly become corporate and structured is abbreviating to MTL. DTL is what would kill you if you tried it with a burning cigarette – you inhale directly from the end of the e-cig drawing the vapor directly from the coil into your lungs.

D*mned near killed me.

It was awful…it was hot, flavorless, hot, seared the back of my throat like sucking on a blowtorch, and have I yet mentioned, hot?

Frelling yipe! Trust me, the curses flying from my lips were not acronyms. (So you know, I tried it again a few days later, figuring a few days’ more experience would make a difference. Second verse, same as the first. More cursing, and I’m so done with that!)

Anyway, on this day, I apparently got plenty of sleep, because I basically forgot all about it as I worked until late afternoon, and even then it was something of a forced march to the yard, since I really didn’t need the extra energy.

Another day, and this morning I got nowhere near enough sleep…downing caffeine tablets and cappuccino first thing. A few puffs did seem to make a small difference in level of awareness, and the trips to the back yard were more frequent than yesterday. Checked the level in the tank at the end of the day, and it appears that ignoring the three or so drops of distilled water I added to thin the juice a little, I’ve still used in three days a grand total of 0.2ml or slightly less. The bottle contains 30ml. Thank heavens it has a shelf life of a year, considering how little I am using. But then, this isn’t a situation where I need the constant “fix” of nicotine, so I suppose it’s inevitable I’d use a whole lot less than someone trying to wean themselves from cigarettes might.

I’m also wondering how long the 1100mAh battery will last on a single charge. Considering how little I’m using it compared to a “real” vaper, I’m guessing a good long time. But there wasn’t anything in the on-line documentation that mentioned any way to tell when the battery needs to be recharged. Guess I’ll figure that out when it stops working, huh?

Additional days, pretty much same as the first few. I tend not to even think about it until I start yawning, and sometimes a few drags and I’m good to go, other times I’m sucking down 8oz of energy drink when I come back in the door. I think I’m ready to evaluate the experience:

It was not terrible. It was not exciting. It was actually pretty uneventful. I seem to gain a little something out of it, especially when I am more tired than usual, so I may continue using it as a caffeine-delivery system, but I doubt I’ll be heading outside in sub-zero temperatures just to suck in some caffeinated vapor…to be blunt, cappuccino made with Merlin’s Coffee’s “Thor’s Hammer” blend tastes so much better…

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