E-Cigarettes Aren’t Cool

They may be a bit better for you, but e-cigarettes still look ridiculous. Ex-smoker Peter Bonventre offers his advice to help you kick the nasty habit.

E-Cigarettes Aren't Cool
They may be a bit better for you, but e-cigarettes still look ridiculous. Ex-smoker Peter Bonventre offers his advice to help you kick the nasty habit.

The guy at the end of the bar? Watch him take his cupped right hand to his lips.  See that misty cloud billowing from his mouth, like he’s exhaling outside in the cold? No, it’s not smoke; it’s vapor. And no, he’s not smoking; he’s vaping.

You get the picture. He’s sucking on an e-cigarette, or maybe it’s an e-hookah or a vape pipe or a hookah pen. By whatever name, these gewgaws are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine—minus the toxic tar—and they have exploded in popularity. And while scores of municipalities, including New York and Los Angeles, have banned vaping in certain public places, a lot of smokers, uh, vapers, sneak a few puffs wherever they please—because they can: The vapor is odorless, and quickly evaporates in the air.

“I ‘smoke’ in my office all the time,” a veteran New York journalist confessed. “Airplanes when stewardesses aren’t looking. Restaurants, courthouses, you name it. I’m shameless. But I will admit, it looks dorky. That’s a big downside.”

You got that right, my friend. E-cigs and e-hookahs come in different shapes and sizes and colors, and the nicotine liquid that’s vaporized is infused with flavors like peach, chocolate, bubble gum, banana nut cake—even caviar! I think I’m gonna be sick! Can you imagine Bogie or the Duke inhaling a vanilla cupcake-flavored vapor from a sparkly-red hookah pen?

Look, I’m not advocating lighting up the real thing. I’m an ex-smoker, and regret I ever got hooked on the habit. I’m talking here about the aesthetics of smoking cigarettes as opposed to vaping from a toy-like gizmo, and how cigarettes were once virtually regarded as a fashion accessory, particularly in the movies, where some stars wore them fabulously well. The men looked cool, the women deliciously wicked and erotic. Think Lauren Bacall and Ava Gardner and a sizzling Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, dragging on a cigarette as she tells William Hurt’s character, “You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.”

For some pop culture perspective, I reached out to Chris Nashawaty, the ace critic at Entertainment Weekly. Any chance that electronic cigarettes will replace tobacco cigarettes in the movies? Don’t count on it any time soon, he said. The only star he could think of who’s puffed on an e-cigarette in a role is Johnny Depp in The Tourist, a wannabe noir thriller co-starring Angelina Jolie. “At the start of the film, I suspect an e-cig was used to signal that Depp’s character—a bookish math professor—was soft, a wimp, that he couldn’t be further from the fedora-wearing, chain-smoking tough guys of noirs past like Bob Mitchum.”

Back in the real world, even as the FDA seems poised to regulate the $2-billion industry, most health experts agree that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than regular cigarettes. But what are the long-term effects of inhaling nicotine-laced vapors? And are e-cigarettes more effective than nicotine gum or patches at helping people quit smoking tobacco? Nobody knows for sure. But my journalist pal hasn’t smoked a cigarette in six months, and hopes one day to quit e-cigarettes as well. Nothing dorky about that, nothing at all.