“I Tried Vaping To Quit Smoking — And This Is Why I Failed”
Photograph by Victor Prado
An embarrassingly honest account of addiction…
I’m just going to admit it…
I’m the worst kind of smoker. Because I freakin’ love it. And it’s been that way for 25 years, from that first sneaky fag under the bridge after school at 13. While 99 percent of smokers will groan about how hard it is to quit, and actually hate their habit, I have always regarded it as the best part of my day. Legit. And the best part is that I get to have the best part of my day over and over and over again.
So when I decided to take on a one-week vaping challenge, my emotions were mixed. I’d taken a drag once, and coughed so hard I almost lost an eyeball. But that was one time. Besides, I figured it would be a cool experiment – I’d always been curious about what made people switch from their convenient, perfectly-crafted cigarettes to a clunky gadget that always looked a little… awkward.
Then there was also this tiny part of my brain that wondered, Could this be my out? Because if ever there was an abusive relationship between a human and a cigarette, it was mine. Classic Stockholm. Textbook falling for the fuckboy.
But first, a vaping lesson…
If you’ve been chilling under a rock, basically, vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the water vapour produced by an electronic device called a vaporizer or e-cigarette. It looks thicker than smoke, but dissipates more quickly and smells less “smoky”, depending on the flavour you choose: “Strawberry Cupcake” is one of them – not kidding.
Vaping is a tobacco-free, and sometimes nicotine-free, version of dodgy traditional cigarettes. It’s smoking minus tobacco, the smell, the side effects and health risks, say the advocates. Instead of a pack of cigs, you use an electronic device, which is refillable and rechargeable. You’ve probably seen hipsters do it.
But what’s in that liquid? E-liquid generally consists of propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG), or both, widely used as food additives. Then there’s water, flavouring and nicotine (the thing that makes it addictive). No gunky tar. None of those cancer-causing toxins. So far, not too scary.
According to the Quit Smoking Community, vaping history actually dates way back, with the earliest mention relating to a clan of interesting Iranian Eurasian rovers back in 500BC. These dudes would throw weed on red-hot stones, which would turn into vapor, which they’d ritualistically bathe in and inhale. Yeah. Various incarnations followed, including a massive vaping subculture (hey, hookah!), but the brain behind the modern invention was Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist who took inspiration from the death of his father (cancer, caused by his habit). Lik’s angle: a healthier alternative to smoking. This is the part I’m interested in.
Day 1: Support structures firmly in place
And so, with vape in hand (tobacco flavour for familiarity’s sake), half a box of cigarettes in my bag, plus one full carton under my pillow as back-up (obviously), I vowed to give my fuckboy the finger for one full week. How hard could it be? Especially since it wasn’t like I was giving him up entirely. I was getting the nicotine – just without the nifty packaging… (Oh, and the tar and the 20 million different toxins you’ll find in said cute packaging.)
To my surprise, the world didn’t end. I felt strange, foggy, withdrawn and anxious, and I spent much longer periods outside pulling desperately on my fake cig, but I kinda flew mildy ajitter through my first day – and still had my job come home time! It helped that my entire office was in the throes of delighted astonishment that the gutter child finally looked as if she were going to claw her way out of Bad Health. The encouragement was real. And I appreciated it. I needed it.
The people around you play a huge role in your ability to stay the course. Note to all friends and families of smokers: don’t reprimand them, guys – encourage them. It works.
Day 2: Exercise to exorcise the demon
Shit. Woke up feeling like I’d gone back in time to my worst varsity hangover ever – the morning I opened my eyes in a park, covered in dew, seemingly paralysed. I think I might actually have “vape overdosed”!? Because there I was, the night before, couch-bound and so orally-fixated on my vape I think I might have even drooled. You see, I smoke the lightest cigarette in the universe (0.1mg – truth) and I’d been loaded up with 18mg of pure smack. It was grrrrrrreat. Until the next morning. So I quickly learnt that if you’re going to vape, load that damn cartridge right, and remember that just because you don’t get to stomp out that cig, doesn’t mean you can keep on going… Clearly.
That second day was a serious struggle. I felt groggy and irritable; my sense of humour… vaporised. But a few plusses emerged from this pit of despair. First, I had my first “WTF, I just went four hours without smoking and I don’t feel like I’m biting into metal” moment. Second, I worked out like a trojan – and tried to be cognisant of the types of alternate highs you can get without blackening your vital organs. Third, I really, really enjoyed my lunch. It was my usual cheese toastie, but it tasted like a bunch of happy, dancing emojis in my mouth. Functioning taste buds are quite lekker. Back pats all round.
Another moment worth a nod: despite the bad start, I actually managed to navigate dinner with a very fresh ex and not cave to the crave. What?! I am a bundle of nerves on any given day… And when it involves a guy, that escalates to to a 10 on the “Should She Be Put Away For A While?” scale. But I did it. And he was also remarkably supportive, even sitting outside on the step with me, nodding mildly as I blew vape in his face and asked if it smelt funny.
Listen up, this one’s a biggie: Boys dig non-smokers. Fact. Your breath smells like rose petals. Your clothes smell like StaySoft. Your teeth shine bright like diamonds. And let’s not even talk about your skin…
When I climbed into my car at the end of the evening, that old stompie smell hit me… By now on a saintly high, I vowed to empty my ashtray first thing. Victory. Ish.
Day 3: The Fall. And the end. Kind of.
I kinda knew I was going to fail on this day. I’m not sure if it was The Upside Downs (I was PMSing hard) or just that the longing for that feeling was too strong. You see, when you vape, you’re taking in nicotine, but you’re not getting the exact same feeling – the one that involves all your senses and rituals. By this stage I think I’d realised that if I really wanted to quit, vaping would 100 percent be part of that process – along with patches and acupuncture and a short stay at Crescent Clinic. But I didn’t want to. Not yet.
So there I was, sadly vaporising myself on the square, the requisite meterage away from humans and doorways. Feeling a bit antsy. And then he appeared – this guy who works on my floor. And he’s just the kind of guy you’d cast in the smoking story of your life. He’s funny and smart and he rolls his own cigarettes, which somehow makes it all WAY cooler. I didn’t even try to act casual. I bummed off him like a sweaty, delirious junkie. Inhale. Then that feeling of the sun on my skin. A hot demi-dealer-god by my side. And it was good.
Creepy, right? Well, it’s addiction. It’s not pretty. And it goes way beyond the physical fix. It’s a mental thing. It’s also, for me, an escape – mostly from the sometimes suffocating humdrum of my life, and from Other People, who mostly make me anxious. It’s a relief to walk away from my desk and outside; it’s a mega relief to walk away from a circle of people holding drinks and cracking jokes – it’s my excuse to excuse myself from the things that make me uncomfortable and bored. For little pockets of safe time. And that says way more about my self and my life than I’m okay to admit.
Days 4, 5, 6 and 7: The heavy lung and other hallucinations
Yup, I swiftly spiralled into full-blown paranoia. Saturday morning saw me staring down that half-box of cigarettes and confessing to my bestie that I was just going to smoke them. It’s embarrassing, but I’d convinced myself that I was suffering from The Heavy Lung (a made-up disease), brought on by vaping, that I had a “suspicious cough”, that I needed to smoke normal cigarettes to LIVE. I didn’t care if I exited this world prematurely, buried in a pile of stompies, a social misfit with really kak skin. It was bad. And by the end of it, she was, like… “That’s your addiction talking.”
Shameful, right? But what I did manage to do after picking myself up from the floor was balance vaping during the day and smoking at night over those last few days. I failed my challenge in an epic way, but I’ve almost halved my regular smoking since then, and I stop and think before every cigarette, quizzing myself whether it’s really necessary. Often, it isn’t.
You have to want to quit. If I really wanted to, I would have done it. In fact, I could have (gasp) quite easily done it, I bet, through vaping. And I’ve already plotted out in my head how I’m going to do it when I am ready. Place half a box of cigarettes in your bag (lose the carton under the pillow – that’s just weird and excessive). Start vaping with tobacco-flavoured, low-dose nicotine. Get super-comfy with that. Then ditch the nicotine altogether. Do all of this somewhere tranquil, far from loud sounds and sudden movements. Boom.
A very important note: I’m making no judgement on whether vaping is better or worse for you than regular cigarettes. (Yes, there is a storm raging over this.) My interest was around whether it would work as a smoking cessation tool, a way to outwit your own addiction and eventually wean you off your fuckboy. It might not work for others, but I’m open to trying it again when the time is right for me.
Because it’s not if I quit smoking anymore, it’s when.