A friend was talking at dinner about a short flight he took. "And then we passed 10,000 feet, and the woman next to me pulled out this thing, and started smoking it. I thought to myself, WTF!? Is this legal? Should I tell the flight attendant?"
We shook our heads in confusion and wonder and shrugged. We had no idea. Our friend said he could see something sort of coming out of the end, but said it wasn't smoke. We were mystified. The only cigarettes we were familiar with were the kind you smoked after too many bottles of wine on a girls weekend.
So if you, like we, are at a loss, here's everything you need to know about electronic cigarettes:
Most electronic cigarettes come in two or three parts. Generally, older electronic cigarette (they came out in 2007) comes in three pieces: a battery, atomizer and cartridge. The newer models have two pieces and combine the atomizer and cartridge into what they call the cartomizer.
'Smoking' an electronic cigarette is made possible by battery power. Batteries are usually lithium-ion and they need to be recharged in order to activate the vaping experience. They're usually connected to an LED light which lights up when the smoker inhales. Most batteries can be recharged through a USB port, a wall connection or a portable charging case. Activation can be manual (you press a button as you inhale) but modern devices are automatically activated when the person inhales. When the battery is engaged, it heats up an element in the atomizer and releases the water vapor for the person to breathe in.
As such, the practice is called 'vaping', as in, "I was vaping on my flight to Montreal and the guy next to me was staring with his mouth agape."
Technically, it is the atomizer that is worthy of the most attention, say several electronic cigarette consumer comments we’ve consulted, since it's this technology that gives smokers a way to 'smoke' in some non-smoking environments, indulge their craving in a healthier way, or use electronic cigarettes to quit smoking.
The e-liquid is usually made from vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol, and can be mixed with different flavors and strengths of nicotine. The water vapor released by the e-liquid looks like real smoke but it does not contain the chemicals and dangerous toxins that are contained inside tobacco cigarettes.
For people who want to quit smoking because of the expense, the e-cigarette can be cheaper than other nicotine replacement therapies. A typical starter kit will probably cost you between $60 and $150, while a pack of cartridges will set you back another $10.
As for the issue of electronic cigarettes on airplanes, it's complicated. The US is in the process of banning them, but all US airlines do ban them (and will turn the plane around if you don't turn it off). In the UK, they're apparently fine, but in Canada (where our friend's seatmate was vaping) they're not legal at all. So do your research before you light up in 15-C, and pack some nicotine gum just in case.