It was at a pool party in my parents’ backyard in the summer of 2012 when I first became addicted to nicotine. I was back in Ontario to visit friends and family for the first time since moving to British Columbia. The day began in an old floating chair with a bottle of Corona while waiting for my friends to arrive.
By this time, I’d lost my religion. It had been several years since my first time getting drunk. I’d finally come to understand why so many people were into the sexual revolution of the ’60s. My language was chock-full of vulgarity that, on more than one occasion, raised the ire of my cool-tongued parents.
But at age twenty-seven, I’d never smoked a cigarette.
Technically, I had smoked cigarettes twice, both times in sixth grade—the first on the walk home from school, and the second in the same backyard where I would many years later become an addict. But I didn’t inhale either of those times, nor did I smoke a cigarette; I only had a couple puffs.
A few hours and a few more Coronas later, my friends and I were standing in a semi-circle in my parents’ backyard telling stories and jokes, and I found myself with one of my friend’s cigarettes between my fingers. The warm fumes enveloped my lungs while the cold liquids filled my stomach.
I didn’t smoke again during that two-week trip to Ontario. It wasn’t until I came back to British Columbia and began feeling the pains of homesickness and boredom settle in that I made my way to the International News and Tobacco Store across the street from my apartment. For some reason I don’t recall, the first purchase I made wasn’t a pack of cigarettes but a pack of cigarillos. The difference, which I would experimentally come to discover, was that unlike cigarettes, cigarillos aren’t meant to be inhaled—but damn, what a rush when you did.
The discomfort of that rush led me to what would ultimately become a six-year addiction to cigarettes—an addiction I believe I hid from my mother until she passed, and revealed to my father as we stood outside the funeral home following the morning’s service.
I tried to quit on a number of occasions, sometimes going cold turkey and other times with the aid of gum or patches. I never got through an entire pack of gum or patches.
When e-cigarettes first hit the market, they were small and designed to mimic the feel of a cigarette. I went through a few of these, but ultimately found they only added to my nicotine intake, as the number of cigarettes I smoked remained constant.
I was never proud of the fact that I smoked. It made me feel cool, but “cool” is a feeling wholly different from pride. A bully can feel cool after he beats up a nerd, but he’ll never feel proud of it.
I wish I could remember how I was first introduced to refillable tank-style vaporizers. It may well have been my girlfriend, to whom I’d initially lied about the depths of my nicotine addiction. It may have been someone on the internet. It’s often difficult to pinpoint these things.
What I do remember is the day in 2015 when I first I stepped foot into Vaporologie, where Jay—the store’s owner and operator—provided my first real introduction to the wide world of vaporizers. The gadget geek in me was in heaven poring over the various options in design and function this class of vaporizer provided. The frugal Scot in me found great solace when another patron shared an app he was using to track the thousands of dollars he’d saved since switching from cigarettes to his vaporizer.
It’s shameful to admit that, though I was keenly aware of the negative impact smoking had on my health and I knew the risks it posed to my overall life expectancy, it was the immediacy of the financial impact this lifestyle change would bring that ultimately drove my decision. The $100 cost of entry and ~$180/month cost to replenish my vape juice supply was far less expensive than the roughly $400/month I was spending on cigarettes.
What I first realized in switching from cigarettes to the vaporizer was that my addiction wasn’t just chemical but also behavioural. Standing up from my desk once an hour to step outside for five minutes was embedded in my daily routine. At some point, I’d rationalized this as not only an opportunity to indulge my addiction, but also an opportunity to stretch my muscles and joints to mitigate the symptoms of sitting all day. Switching from cigarettes to the vaporizer allowed me to continue the routine of taking my hourly hits.
What’s fascinating about addiction is that it’s only a problem if you’re not “producing”. If you can produce something valuable while indulging in an addiction, society doesn’t view you as a problem. No one argues that time spent drinking one kind of plant is more valuable than time spent inhaling another one. All that matters is your production—what are you able to do for someone else in a given moment?
The battery life on my first vaporizer was rarely enough to get me through an entire workday. Eventually, I upgraded to a two-battery model.
I brought the vaporizer and several bottles of juice with me to Uganda. I wish I could say I brought enough juice. By the end of the trip, I had run out and was smoking cigarettes to feed the nicotine addiction. I might’ve smoked a few while out drinking, even before I ran out of juice. It’s tough to admit your addictive behaviour even after you’ve overcome your addiction.
Stress was surely a trigger. So was boredom. And mornings. Definitely evenings.
As I mentioned, the transition from smoking to vaping wasn’t immediate. There were times when I was partaking in cigarettes of both the analog and electronic variety, which was probably the lowest I felt during my time as a smoker. As my partner explained to me, the amount of nicotine one consumes from both methods at once is astronomical. Even if I justified the behaviour by only smoking half a pack at a time, there was no way I could control the amount of vapour I inhaled. It was chain smoking on steroids.
About a year or two ago during my transition from smoking to vaping, my partner asked if I envisioned myself vaping the rest of my life. I was taken aback by that, partly because I tend not to enjoy looking too far into the future, and because I had to admit that when I did, the answer was “no.” Why, then, was I vaping now?
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point I made the decision to slowly ween myself off. I’d started my vaping adventure with juice that had 9mg of nicotine per mL. Over time I slowly dropped that number to 6mg, then 3mg. Eventually, I started mixing 3mg juice with 0mg juice to get ~1.5mg juice before finally getting down to 0mg.
It was maybe 2–3 weeks after getting down to 0mg when I realized… I don’t enjoy vaping anymore. So, I stopped.
The next day, I invited the guys I’d worked with in Uganda over for dinner. My partner and I prepared a feast of ribs, veggies, salad, and other goodies. My guests enjoyed a few puffs of vape, but I chose not to partake.
It’s now been over a month since I last vaped and a bit longer since I had my last hit of nicotine. I don’t feel any withdrawal symptoms, though I often notice the smell of cigarette smoke and feel a twinge of craving when I’m out and about.
I don’t intend for this to be taken as a prescription for overcoming a nicotine addiction. For now, the strategy seems to have worked for me. Of course, everybody’s different.
But, I do hope my story encourages you to know that it can be done. Whether you take the same road or choose your own, know that there’s a reachable destination at the end of the line.
It might just take a few tries to find it.
This post was originally written at the end of August. I held off on publishing it because I was about to spend 9 days off the grid and, quite honestly, didn’t want to miss out on the near certain barrage of praise and congratulations due to come my way.
I ended up smoking about a dozen cigarettes during those 9 days.
Six weeks had passed between my last vape and when I initially intended to publish this post. It’s now been 6 weeks since my last cigarette. Currently, I don’t feel the need to smoke, though I still feel the sensation of craving when I see others smoking around town.
I think the takeaway from experience is that while I’m not taking in any nicotine, it still has a hold on me. If you know me and see me starting to fall back to old habits, I ask that you gently remind me to read this post and remember I would much rather be healthy than cool.
My thanks to Darren Case at 22shapes for the cigarette animation. Thanks also to Chris Gonzales at Stellar Edits for his help editing this post and my partner, Andrea, for helping me with basic arithmetic.