Deputy editor Simon Waters has smoked for most of his adult life, but hopes that he has found a way to give up permanently. In this personal account, he shares some of the downsides of smoking, and discusses the revolution around vaping that has helped him to kick the butts into touch.
Let's begin with a few sums.
A 50g packet of tobacco costs more than $80.
Until recently I would buy one packet every five days.
That's cheaper than the equivalent in tailor-mades, but still expensive.
Check my maths but I calculate that to be about $112 a week.
I have smoked at that level for more years than I care to remember. Let's start with 10. So 112 times 52 weeks is $5824. Times 10 years is $58,240.
Excuse me for a moment while I go rock and sob in the corner of the room. And worse is to come.
I have been a smoker, on and off but mostly on, for 36 years.
Tobacco did not always cost what it does now, and there were years I managed to stop. But we can agree, can we not, I could have set fire to close to $200k.
There is good news.
I'm 52. If I live to 76 years and 10 months, the average age most smokers die, I will save $145, 600 - and let's hope I will live longer, say to 82 years and four months, the average lifespan of a non-smoker, which I now am.
Repeat after me: New Harley.
Giving up tobacco was mostly economic for me.
I wasn't bothered by the health risks, especially when I was younger.
What did gnaw away was the nicotine stains on my fingers, and my moustache, and my teeth. My breath and clothes smelled. My vehicle was forever in need of a vacuum from the bits of tobacco that escaped while I rolled up in the car. Weird stuff grew on my tongue.
It feels good to be clean again, nor a slave to the whereabouts and availability of tobacco, filters, papers, lighters, nor to being a social pariah, labelled by policies as a problem, instead of the productive and valued member of society I'd rather be regarded as. It takes guts to stand up and be a smoker these days.
At times I fought giving up. I imported it cheaply over the internet as successive tax hikes began to bite. It was great. Until Customs wrote me a very cross letter and explained that what I was doing wasn't allowed. Oops. So I tried growing it. That worked well for a couple of years but ultimately there was too much work involved.
Eventually I tried to quit. Nicotine patches gave me great dreams, but I still smoked. Gum, not enough teeth.
I got into tobacco pipes hoping that it would replace the roll your owns. It didn't. Now I collect pipes as well.
Attempts at self-hypnosis ended in failed You Tube sessions following interesting links and gorging on science documentaries.
Happily I smoked my last cigarette over a month ago and haven't missed it one bit. I experienced a few aches and pains while I detoxed from various chemicals (and possibly adjusted to some new ones) but essentially, it's been a cinch. And as a seasoned quitter, I feel good about my prospects of having said goodbye to tobacco for good this time.
For tens of thousands of former smokers there isn't a slightest doubt that vaping is a perfectly legitimate and benign alternative to smoking tobacco.
After some initial misgivings, it now has the backing of governments and medical bodies, reassured by studies that claim vaping to be 95 per cent safer than smoking. In the UK it is already the single most effective method to quit smoking.
In a significant move the US Federal Drug Administration this month gave big tobacco a timeframe to embrace vaping before new laws restrict US cigarettes to almost zero nicotine, effectively killing the industry there. That is a huge shift.
And here in New Zealand the Government also intends to remove barriers to the vaping industry.
The minister responsible for the Government's Smokefree 2025 initiative, Associate Health Minister Nicky Wagner, says that new legislation will introduce regulations similar to those adopted by the UK and will allow vape shops to openly sell e-liquids that contain nicotine. At present nicotine is available, but on a nod and a wink system. Authorities turn a blind eye.
"The whole idea is that we want to make e-cigarettes as available, if not more available, than tobacco cigarettes because they're 95 per cent less harmful. It's an absolute harm-reduction policy," Wagner told the Weekend Herald.
"All the research tells us that it's ex-smokers who are taking up vaping - very little evidence of non-smokers.
"We want you to stop smoking - that's what we want you to do - we want to be smoke-free by 2025. If you can't quit, we'd rather you switched [to vaping]."
A few weeks ago I came in for a bit of stick when I wrote an editorial that opined lumping vaping into a local council smoke free policy still made social pariahs out of people who vaped.
Vapers shouldn't blow clouds into people's breathable air, but do we really need rules to say that?
It's not easy to say what you mean in 300 words, but I think the sentiment was meant to be that in a town where smoking rates have increased, vaping ought to be embraced positively. Vaping is not the problem, smoking is.
For those who may be considering vaping I do have some advice.
First, go do your research. Spend a few hours on You Tube watching vape videos. Google search the more credible sites and get to understand the issues. Here's five things I've observed:
1. Vaping might be harmful. Some flavouring ingredients are suspected of being carcinogenic, and more studies are being done. Meantime e-juices excluding suspect ingredients are available and studies say vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes. But you should know that vaping is most likely not harm free.
2. Not all e-juices are equal. Juices from the USA are generally considered to be safe, but many juices are homemade, or come from less regulated countries, and there is no way to be sure of what's in them. Until we get proper regulation, don't buy e-juice from a two-dollar type shop and seek out credible vaping supply retailers. There are plenty in NZ, mainly online, but some centres now have bricks and mortar vaping shops. Start at one of those if you can.
3. There are certain models of vaping device available that, in inexperienced hands, may cause the slightly excitable litho batteries to potentially harm or injure people. This does not happen without people being highly reckless. But it has happened and while litho batteries do not explode, they do heat up, smoke and leek acid, in dramatic ways. Be sure to handle them safely.
4. It can be offensive looking. Blowing big clouds is fun. But some people will think you're a bogan. If that bothers you, be selective about where you vape. And always be respectful of people's breathable air.
5. You can overdose on nicotine. You can also drink too much wine. Especially red. You have to be 18 to have nicotine added to e-juices that people can buy here in NZ. But yes, if you are not paying attention, you can get sick if you vape too much on too high a strength of nicotine e-juice. Best if you drop nicotine altogether as soon as you can, and enjoy your vape for the great taste and satisfaction.
6. Be careful when choosing your favourite flavour. You may find yourself asking in a shop full of customers for "strawberry cream puff". Embarrassing. And no, I can't count.
Vaping is of course fun too.
There are different flavours, so it never gets old. You can vape warm or cool, depending on your mood. I love a warm evening vape on a sophisticated mixed berry based juice, better than mulled wine or even a hot chocolate.
There are a variety of devices - called mods - and you will probably own several within your first six months. And you can bling them up with accessories, covers, different tanks, hand-crafted drip tips and so on.
And for those who are really bitten, you can branch out into making your own coils, trying different types of tanks, and mixing your own e-liquids (which saves A LOT of money).
There are those who claim that vaping has helped them lose weight. Perhaps. A nice sweet buttery bakery flavour like cake mix, or cheesecake, does taste remarkably good, and of course comes with no calories.
Starting off can be confusing. Another reason to visit your local vaping shop if you're lucky enough to have one nearby. Most people start with a $40 e-cigarette. They are almost plug and play, highly portable and unfaffy. But you will likely graduate to a second, slightly more serious mod, as you become more familiar with what things do.
And most importantly of all, it is most likely that vaping will get you off your tobacco habit.
Many vapers eventually stop vaping too. You don't crave it like you did cigarettes.
And for those reading this on social media, go ahead and leave a comment about your vaping experience. Would love to hear from you.
Whanganui has its own You Tube star. Kyle's channel Te Vape Bro started about five months ago and is a collection of under-five minute vaping-related videos, including flavour reviews, and is punctuated with lots of great Kiwi humour. Kyle also works at The Mushroom Cloud, Whanganui's only dedicated bricks and mortar vaping supplies shop. Go give his channel a thumbs up.