I grew up around smokers and started with a friend when I was fourteen. Within a year, I tried and failed to quit for the first time. It as never difficult to find an older kid to bum me a few or just buy them for me. By the time I was sixteen, most of my friends had also picked up the habit. Smoking became a social activity, and I decided it was pointless to try to quit when everyone I lived with, worked with, and spent my free time with also smoked. Plus I really liked smoking. It satisfied my ritual compulsions and kept me from doing things like biting my nails or picking at my lips. I’ve always been the nervous sort, and smoking just seemed to fit my personality. Then, in 2007, my home state of Arizona passed a state-wide ban on smoking inside businesses or within 20 feet of any public property. Suddenly, I felt like a fugitive. The college even started to crack down on us; we would get yelled at for standing just outside the designated smoking area, when just a few months prior, we could light up as soon as we exited the classroom. Almost overnight, the culture changed, and smoking was anathema. I would get dirty looks walking down the sidewalk with a lit cigarette in my hand. An older gentlemen once stopped me outside a grocery store to tell me it was awfully unlady-like to be smoking in public. I even got more than a few nasty comments from passersby while I was sitting in one of the designated smoking areas. Now, let me be clear: I didn’t mind being asked to take it outside. I never smoked around kids or anyone who specifically asked me not to. I never encouraged anyone to smoke, and I routinely told my younger friends they should not start. Smoking was not something I was ever proud of. But it was my choice. I knew the risks, I spent the money, and I liked it. I didn’t think it was fair to be treated like a criminal for doing something legal, especially when that something was so hard to quit. Once, I was sitting on the sidewalk outside a conference in Washington State enjoying my post-lunch cigarette. An old woman walked by and grimaced openly at me, waving her hand dramatically in front of her face. That’s DISGUSTING, she spat. Why was it okay for her and others like her to be so rude to me? I wasn’t in her space, I didn’t blow it at her, and I even pocketed the butt after I put it out since there were no ashtrays in sight. Does a bad habit make a bad person? By the time I was nineteen, I had tried and failed to quit smoking four or five times. I read about electronic cigarettes online in the winter of 2008, and at first, I thought it was science fiction. A cleaner alternative to cigarettes that didn’t smell bad or ruin the carpet? I had to see it to believe it. They were new on the market and not well-understood, but I wanted to know. So I went to my local smoke shop and purchased a starter kit and a handful of replacement cartridges at an obscene price. I was sorely disappointed. The e-vapor tasted terrible, and the only redeeming quality about the e-cigarette itself was that it lighted up when I puffed on it. I thought that was neat. But the vapor hurt my throat, and it didn’t help that I had to drag really hard to get a good puff. I tossed them and gave up. At twenty-one, I got pregnant. That was my wake-up call. I’d always sworn I’d quit when I wanted to start having kids, and here it was. This fell at an extremely stressful time in my life–I’d just moved to a new city and started a new job, and my smoking intake had skyrocketed from five to seven cigarettes a day to over a pack a day. I wanted to quit, I needed to quit, and I was determined to quit for the sake of my child. I couldn’t do replacement therapies, as I was pregnant, and I didn’t have the insurance to pay for it anyway. So I tried cutting back by one cigarette a day. Over the course of two weeks, I got down to four cigarettes a day, each smoked a half at a time to help me feel like I was still getting the same amount. I lost my new job, the father of my child vanished, and when I finished the last cigarette in the pack, I was determined that it would be forever. Thirty six hours later, I was four hours into the worst crying fit of my life. I couldn’t breathe. When I would stop crying, I would start craving. That would make me mad. The kind of mad only a smoker without cigarettes could understand. The kind of mad where I’d happily strangle my next-of-kin just to smell the fingers of smoker. Did you know that stress can cause miscarriages? Sixty hours after quitting, I lit the first cigarette in my second last pack. I smoked two a day, half at a time, until that pack ran out. Then I quit again. This time, I only made it a day and a half. The third time, I made it thirty hours. The fourth time, I made it five hours. The sixth time, I had a panic attack within an hour that was so brutal and so terrifying that my own father, an adamant anti-smoker, handed me a ten dollar bill and told me to go buy a pack before I lost my mind. I wanted to quit. Do you know what it’s like to know there’s a baby inside you that you love more than anything but you can’t control yourself enough to stop hurting it? Do you know what it’s like to be halfway through your first trimester and scared to death that you’ll either poison the baby or get so stressed out from quitting that your own body will reject it? It’s a horrible feeling. I resolved myself to smoking two cigarettes, half at a time, for the duration of my pregnancy. I was ashamed of myself. And I hated the new knowledge that I just could not quit, even if it was the one thing I wanted most to do. After I had my daughter, I tried wellbutrin, but it made me suicidal before I even put the cigarettes down. I tried the patch, the gum, and all that other nonsense, and it all just made me want a cigarette. I gave up quitting. I tried to limit myself to two a day, but two became five, five became eight, and eight became twelve. Every day, I’d go outside, put on my smoke shirt, puff like an addict trying to hide something, put it out, slink inside, wash my hands and face, and try not to let the shame show as I took care of my daughter. The dirty looks continued. The prices went up and up and up. My friends were quitting and smugly saying, Why don’t you try the patch/chantix/hypnotism/therapy? I wanted to scream, I HAVE! I CAN’T STOP! DO YOU KNOW THESE D**N THINGS ARE MORE ADDICTIVE THAN HEROINE?! DON’T YOU THINK I WOULD HAVE STOPPED BY NOW IF I COULD HAVE?! Earlier this year, 2013, the vape fad landed in my peer group. I sneered at first when a good friend showed me her mod on a lanyard. Those things suck, I said derisively. I told her about my experience in 2008, and she shook her head, No, this is different. This is better. These aren’t some dopey Chinese knockoffs, this stuff is blended in America. No cartridges, just juice. You know exactly what’s in it because they blend it up in the back of the shop before they sell it to you. You can even get custom nicotine levels and flavor blends if you want. I had nothing to lose, so I stopped by an exclusive vape shop and had a chat with the fellow behind the counter. I told him I wanted to quit smoking, and he grinned and pointed to a sign behind him that read Kick Ash. You’re not the only one, he told me. I bought my starter kit and a couple fun flavors to start out with. The guy at the store set me up with a pretty high nicotine dose to start with, and he told me they’d work with me to help me lower the nicotine levels at a reasonable rate. No withdrawals. No panic attacks. No suicidal urges. And the best part? No smell, no dirty looks, no feeling like I’m slowly killing myself with every puff. That was a week ago. I’ve gone from fifteen cigarettes a day down to two, and I made that change in just two days. The pack I opened four days ago is going to be my last pack, and this time, I know I can do it. I sleep better now. I can run farther already. I’m back to doing daily exercise with my partner. I’m not a hopeless case anymore, and it feels good. In a few weeks, I’ll go down to half the nicotine I’m using now. A few weeks after that, I’ll go down to half of that. I know that within less than a year, I can be nicotine free. I can even go to a zero-nicotine mix and just vape for fun and flavor if I want to, or I can put away the mod, too. I love the flavors of my vape. My favorite is probably chocolate mint, but there are so many to choose from! I love the variety. You never get that kind of variety with cigarettes, and now that I think about it, I never really liked the taste of cigarettes anyway (not that it stopped me from smoking compulsively every single day). I’ve got this awesome little mod with a gorgeous Chinese dragon on the battery and a beaded lanyard so I don’t lose it. I can vape inside restaurants on windy nights, and nobody says anything, because they’ve got little lanyards on, too. I was at a rock show a few nights ago, and folks were just vaping away right inside the venue. I only saw a handful of actual cigarettes–outside, where they belong. My friend who re-introduced me to e-cigs has now been smoke-free all summer, and she told me she’s already down to the lowest nicotine level there is. It cost me less than $100 to start vaping, and if I can go a month without smoking at all, I will save over $200. That means it’s practically already paid for itself. Even if I keep vaping at the same level I was smoking before (which I do not plan to do), my monthly vape habit will cost less than one-eighth the amount of my cigarette habit. I’m excited, I’m happy, and I’m almost completely free from the stink of the ashtray. E-cigarettes are a godsend for smokers like me. I am so thankful to the guys at the Vape store for helping me kick my dirty habit, because I was honestly beginning to think I wouldn’t be able to quit until it killed me. If this technology is outlawed, I think it will be a disservice to smokers who have been waiting decades for science to come up with a less painful way to cut back and/or quit. This stuff works! I’ve recommended it to every single smoker I’ve met. Usually, when you talk to smokers about quitting, they roll their eyes. They’ve heard it all before. But when they hear about vaping, you can almost see the light bulb go on over their heads. It’s a revelation. Thank you for listening to my story, and I hope it can help someone like me in the future.