After 27 years as a beleaguered pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker, I finally managed to quit in 1986.
It was easy -- so easy, as the comedian will tell you that I had quit dozens of times previously.
For some lucky reason, this one stuck and I've always considered kicking my addiction to cigarettes one of the great triumphs of my life.
But if I had not quit, if I were still smoking, I would be seriously considering an e-cigarette. It is a cheaper and, from all accounts, safer path to a nicotine high than the traditional paper-bound cigarette.
E-cigarettes contain a liquid that vaporizes when inhaled, giving one the nicotine of a combustible cigarette but without the tar and smoke -- and without the smell, the stained fingers and yellow teeth, the anti-smoking stigma.
According to a report in Time magazine, an $8 bottle of liquid in a refillable e-cig can last a pack-a-day smoker about a week -- as opposed to the $30-plus he or she would be burning up on real cigarettes.
So far e-cigarettes have gone largely unregulated. There are no bans on inhaling their nicotine vapors in public places, no laws against advertising. You may have seen them on such major TV events as the Super Bowl and Academy Awards, hawked by the likes of Katherine Heigl and Leonardo DiCaprio. (I think it was the Marlboro Man that got me hooked.)
Partly because of the lack of regulations, according to Time, e-cig sales have soared from $300 million last year to an estimated $1.8 billion in 2013. A Wells Fargo senior analyst said sales could exceed $10 billion by 2017.
The Food and Drug Administration is planning to write rules that would regulate the manufacture, sales and advertising for electronic cigarettes.
This comes even as the FDA and other public health officials recognize a Catch 22 in the growth of the e-cigarette industry.
On the one hand, it is helping wean thousands of smokers away from a traditional cigarette that kills, according to the Time article, “more Americans annually than AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.''
The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are unknown at the moment, but no one disputes that they are a safer nicotine delivery system. There are, according to the FDA, about 7,000 chemicals in a combustible cigarette and just a handful in an e-cigarette.
Industry leaders boast that up to 2.4 billion fewer cigarettes are smoked every year because of electronic cigarettes.
That's an impressive figure, but for health officials it is a two-edged sword. Their fear is that e-cigs will become an acceptable form of nicotine addiction and a kind of glamorous status symbol at a time when so many millions have kicked cigarettes.
Fortunately, at my age, I'm not looking for glamor or status. I should have no problem avoiding e-cigs. Sorry, Leonardo.
Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.