Out with the smoke, in with the vape

Photo by Rebecca Johansen
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Anti-smoking experts fear e-cigarettes will encourage young people to smoke. Rebecca Johansen reports.

What’s the best thing to have after a pizza? A cigarette, according to one of Jesse Forde’s friends who posted this on his Facebook wall one night in 2013.

After a hectic shift at his local pizza shop, university student Forde found himself on Facebook, reading his friend’s status while enjoying meatlovers pizza he had brought home with him. Curiosity getting the better of him, Forde decided to steal a cigarette from his mother’s Benson and Hedges packet on the bench.

The cigarette reached his mouth; he inhaled, the bitter smoke coating his mouth, slowing drifting towards his lungs. A pleasant, euphoric feeling washed over him. He thought he’d finally understand why people smoked. Becoming dizzy from consuming the smoke, he exhaled and tried to stop himself coughing from every drag he took.

Four years on and aged nearly 21, for Forde a guilty pleasure has turned into a routine. On average, he smokes a minimum of 10 cigarettes a day, and up to 20 when out drinking with friends. Although he is a regular smoker, he says, he’s trying to quit in some way, shape or form.

“I’ve tried to quit probably about eight to nine times, but it usually hasn’t stuck for very long. I did manage to quit for about six months last year, and then I started again on New Year’s Eve.”

One of the reasons many smokers fail to quit is that nicotine is extremely addictive, Becky Freeman, public health researcher at the University of Sydney, says.

“It is one of the most addictive compounds that we’ve ever researched. It can be a very social habit, particularly for young people in their 20s when they go out to have fun with their friends. It’s really hard to break one, addiction to nicotine and two, that social reinforcing normalisation.”

Forde thought about switching to e-cigarettes, but searched the internet for answers, and decided the health benefits were negligible and he would rather quit.

Taking a sip from his tall cappuccino with one sugar, he says: “I think a lot of smokers delude themselves by saying, ‘I don’t smoke cigarettes, I use a vaporiser,’ like it’s better and it isn’t, you’re still having nicotine.”

Tobacco treatment specialist Dr Colin Mendelsohn says in his recent blog: “There is a common misconception that e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking. Switching to an e-cigarette dramatically reduces cancer risk as well as the risk of many other smoking-related diseases.

“E-cigarettes are now the most popular quitting aid in the United Kingdom and the United States and many other countries. E-cigarettes could save the lives of many thousands of Australian smokers who are unable to quit with conventional therapies.”

Photo by Rebecca Johansen

Quit Victoria policy manager Kylie Lindorff says there are serious concerns that e-cigarettes will reignite interest in smoking among young people.

“While e-cigarettes are likely to be less dangerous than tobacco cigarettes, they are not harmless. With more Australians stopping smoking and with fewer and fewer kids taking up smoking than ever before, it is important that a new gadget does not inadvertently make smoking desirable again.”

Freeman agrees: “We have the lowest smoking rate among young people in the entire world, and it’s something Australia should really be proud of.”

Four years on, Jesse finally understands why people smoke. The stereotype has an element of truth in it, but he also thinks it’s unproductive, he says.

“At the end of the day I really do believe that no one who smokes wants to smoke.”