We discussed Electronic Cigarettes over at the Perpetual Post this week. Come on by!

Smoking is bad, smoking is gross, smoking kills. We’ve had those words drummed into us so often that they’ve almost lost all meaning. Anti-smoking campaigns abound—they’re smart, edgy, profound. The statistics they provide are sobering—increased heart disease, cancer, stroke. But getting people to stop smoking has been a long and difficult path—and part of the reason is because it’s become so deeply ingrained in our culture. Smokers take breaks together, share lighters, bum cigarettes. There’s also no denying that smoking, as stinky and unappealing as it is for nonsmokers, looks so damn COOL! If only it were a little more awkward; if only it weren’t associated in movies and on TV with cowboys, rock stars, rebels, and sophisticates. I am vehemently anti-smoking, but even I have to admit that pictures of James Dean with a cigarette dangling from his lips are striking and sexy in part because of the wreath of smoke curled around his face.

People who want to quit smoking have many aides to choose from—nicotine patches, gum, hypnosis, therapy. But none of those actually work as actual surrogate cigarettes—until now. Now we have the newfangled ‘Electronic Cigarette’—a cigarette-like device which allows users to mimic the act of smoking.
But this device’s day has not yet come. It has yet to catch on, even with smokers who are trying desperately to quit. This might be in part because the concept is so ridiculous. How could an electronic device ever replace the heady, organic pleasure found in the glowing embers of actual burning paper and tobacco? Whatever false sensation the electronic cigarette offers, how can it possibly compare to the act of actual smoking?

Well, it can’t. But at least it’s something—maybe even a step in the right direction. New anti-smoking ads tout the benefits of training yourself to learn how to do every day activities without a cigarette in your hand, so the act of holding a cigarette is clearly an integral part of the whole experience. Perhaps this beta version of the electronic cigarette is just an early prototype, but unless it catches on, it will be the only version there is.

So, how to make it catch on? Well, it needs to become cool. This seems like a tall order, but look at pegged jeans, look at soul patches; look at the Snuggie. We regularly embrace all sorts of ridiculous fads and trends if enough of the right people are seen supporting them. So it’s time for rock stars, rappers, porn stars, actors, politicians—very public smokers who lead very public lives—to embrace the electronic cigarette. It needs to become a badge of honor—after all, quitting smoking is hard, and if you’re seen publicly struggling to quit; looking all broody and angsty with your glass of whiskey and your electronic cigarette clenched between your teeth, you’re sure to earn some sympathy points.

The second part is, it has to stop trying to look like an actual cigarette. Electronic cigarette, you are so clearly not actually burning. You are not a real cigarette. Stop trying to be unobtrusive and realistic looking. Let’s add some color to those things and make them bold! Give them psychedelic patterns; make them hot pink, day-glo orange; make them shiny silver and gold. If the electronic cigarette stops trying to be a real cigarette and becomes its own entity, it’ll be a step closer to gaining acceptance and favor. Nobody wants to look like they’re trying to look like a smoker—let them instead look like they’re trying NOT to be a smoker. Electronic cigarette, be proud of what you are. After all, your little electric heart is in the right place.