Montana’s Vape Boom

by Eric Sharpe

The initial “non-vaping reader response” to our cover article subtitle for an article on vaping, that being “the good, the bad, and the ugly” must certainly be “what could possibly be good about vaping?”  That’s the best place to start here as MoFi is dedicated to the truth as much as it is promoting health, wellness, and fitness. And sometimes the truth isn’t what you’d expect it to be.


Any researched work begins with a hypothesis… or even a general question, such as “We can assume that vaping can’t possibly hold any positive benefits being a nicotine product.” Right?  But truth, born out of facts, discovered through research, can’t be held back to support a hypothesis, unless the goal is to provide half- truths for the purpose of swaying opinion.  The “news” is rife with half-truths.  Not here.  And what we discovered about vaping truly revealed bad stuff, ugly stuff, and yes, good stuff.


In reporting all of the facts, we thus hope that our work is thus believable because we aren’t providing a biased attack on vaping.  Frankly, and especially when talking to teens about such things, cliché “just say no” campaigns don’t just fall short of persuading teens and adults to “not do” something generally perceived to be bad for them, but those efforts simply come across as uninformed, naïve, and frankly, a bit stupid.  For those who know nothing about vaping though, we need to provide a little ground work first.


What is it?

Let’s start with some terms. For those who vape, please excuse the nerdy explanations here.  Your parents are reading this too.  And let’s be honest.  When it comes to this type of stuff, parents are nerds.  “Vape” is the widely used term for electronic cigarettes, aka e-cigarettes or any vape producing e-cig-like device, like vape pens, e-cigs, e-cigars etc., which heat a liquid into an aerosol form that can be inhaled.  E-liquid is more commonly referred to as Vape juice, or just juice.  It is actually a rather ingenious little creation considering the technology that goes into a typical vaping device. (see graphic below)

e-cig diagram_

A little history

E-cigs were born out of the rise of technology and a health industry assault on a nicotine addicted society.  This assault included a final public acceptance that cigarette use is directly linked to cancer which resulted in massive use tax increases, and a near total ban on public smoking.  It is hard to believe that people were allowed to smoke on planes until 1987. At its height in 1960, about 42% of Americans (that’s 2 in 5) were regular smokers.  In 2015 (most recent data), that rate was down to 16.8% (Centers for Disease Control (CDC).


It was actually a rise in awareness in the dangers of smoking that led to the invention of the e-cigarette at the turn of the century.  A Chinese pharmacist developed e-cigs for the Ruyan Group, (now Dragonite International), stating he had been motivated to create it after his father died from lung cancer. He hoped to create a “safer alternative” to cigarette smoking.  In 2007, the first e-cig hit the market in the United States after initial success in Europe.


The rise of use of this “safer,” less expensive, and under the regulatory radar nicotine delivery system has been exponential since then.  Estimates of use range widely as studies are in their infancy, but it is estimated that by 2014, 3.7% of Americans were vaping. Though that seems a small percentage, consider that just 7 years prior, no one was vaping. That 3.7% represents about 9 million people.  More significant is that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that use amongst high schoolers tripled from 4.5 % in 2013 to 13.4% in 2014.  Where rates are in 2018 are unknown.  It seems that vaping is a youth driven industry.


Billings and Montana

And it seems that Montana high schoolers are leading the drive.  According to the 2017 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey High School results, 46.6% of high school students have tried “an electronic vape product” at least once in their lives.  A startling 22.5% report semi-regular to regular vape use.  The report indicates that Montana Youth use e-cigarettes at a rate 5.5 times that of Montana adults (4% of Montana adults use vape on a regular basis). This begs the question, where are they getting their vape product from?

Vape Use Chart

The boom came to Billings in 2014 when four vape shops opened within six months according to a Gazette article.  Though there are only six shops in town now dedicated solely to the selling of vape products, there are no fewer than 17 stores whose primary products include Vape (and include tobacco, alcohol, and other products) and countless gas station convenience stores that offer vape products.


As of 2018, eight counties in Montana have added e-cigarettes to their local “smoke free” laws including Yellowstone County.  In August 2016, all Montana retailers of vape products were expressly prohibited from selling to anyone under the age of 18. But if stores aren’t enforcing the laws, such restriction make little difference. According to the survey, of students who used a vape product in the previous 30 days, 15% bought them directly from a store.  And despite what would be assumed, only 6% report buying their products online.  The majority borrow from others or have older friends buy these products for them.


But despite the scary numbers… we have to really question why they are “scary” and if we should really be afraid of the Vape boom?  Can we “assume that vaping can’t possibly hold any positive benefits being a nicotine product”?  Hmm.


The Good

It seems counterintuitive to anyone concerned with the dramatic rise in vaping, especially amongst Montana teens, to consider that vaping actually has some positives to report.  But, facts are facts.  The problem with talking to teens about any substance abuse issue is that adults don’t always admit to all the facts.  I actually wrote a book about it (it’s out of print – don’t ask).


However, what should be understand is that what follows in this section is a discussion of the “good” in comparison to smoking.  Though Montana high school vape use is at 22.5% (used at least once in the past 30 days), the rate of cigarette use amongst high schoolers is at 12% with regular smokers (at least one cigarette a day) at 8.2%. Can vaping be given credit for the general decline in cigarette use in Montana, and the nation?  Maybe.


In looking at vaping as a lesser of two evils, well, it seems to be.  And at present, it seems to be a much lesser evil.  But even a vape connoisseur must admit that the argument of “very evil” versus “somewhat evil” is a little silly. Nicotine is not a substance natural to the human body.  To rationalize that vape is a safer alternative to cigarettes is really like saying an ounce of poison is better than a pound of poison.  Which, of course, it is – and that is the basic argument in favor of vaping – that it is far less of a health danger than cigarettes.


Cigarettes are like a chemical factory.  The website indicates that “over 7,000 chemical combinations occur when a cigarette is lit.”  None of them are good. In stark contrast, a study sponsored by Public Health England, “an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom” in 2015 found that typical vape products are “95% less harmful than smoking.”  As vape burns at between 350 to 400 degrees, it is thought that less harmful toxins are produced in comparison to the 1000 degree heat of a cigarette which produces far more residue that enters the lungs.  Yeah, that’s good… or it least, not as bad.


As vaping is still a new phenomenon, studies are few and far between as to its true long term effects, but the empirical evidence of its benefits over cigarettes are compelling as a vape user can argue that compared to cigarettes, there’s: no smell (mostly); no smokers breath; no cigarette burns on clothes and furniture; no dirty ashtrays; and no cigarette butts (which use to be seen everywhere in society).  Further, vaping is seemingly more acceptable and less annoying to the public (though frankly, it is very annoying to non-vapers), and perhaps less dangerous to friends and family. Non users don’t have to smell their friends’ habit for days after use and second hand vape effects at present, seem minimal though the research has yet to be done.


Helping Kick the Habit?

e-cig profits.jpg

It is a mixed bag as to whether e-cigarettes have helped people quit smoking, which was the original intent of the invention.  The author of the Public Health England study wrote that “the evidence consistently finds that e-cigarettes are another tool for stopping smoking.”  But what has been found specifically amongst adults is that about 20% who turn to vape to stop smoking continue smoking cigarettes… along with vaping.  But the good news is that adults who aren’t already smokers are not picking up the habit as only 4% of all adult users of vape had never been a smoker.  For adults, vaping seems to actually be a good thing.

But this reveals something not so good about vaping and the vape industry.  Teens aren’t turning to vape to stop smoking… they are simply just turning to vape.  And it is by design.

The Bad

Bubblegum, popcorn, gummy bear, candy cane, cotton candy… these are just some of the designer vaping-liquid flavors aimed at hooking kids.  E-cig marketing is using the same tactic that cigarette ads once took – showing it as a cool past-time to undertake.


Yeah, simply saying that sounds like a nerdy parent, but this one is for the teen vape user:  Ask yourself:  Why do you Vape? Really. Ask yourself.  If it is not about fitting in or being cool, then why are you doing it?  As we’ve given facts here – including the good aspects of vaping, the reader should accept this fact:  The vape industry, (which by the way is dominated by tobacco companies -ie the cigarette industry – yeah, same people) has systematically targeted teenagers.  Why?  You are easier to hook, and your “lifetime” loyalty is more valuable than an adults… because you have a longer life ahead of you.  For those who care then, if you are an anti-establishment, anti-corporation, anti-everything teen: you’re funding your enemy.  Just thought you might like to know.  At least when I was growing up buying candy cigarettes I wasn’t funding those industries… Wait, who owned those candy companies?  (Tobacco industry documents made public in 1998 showed that “tobacco companies cooperated with the makers of candy cigarettes in designing snacks that promoted smoking to children” according to  OK, your parents are hypocrites.


Back to the serious.  Kids are being duped just like we were.  Vape advertising tactics are subtle but effective as they drive teens to easy access. In a report by What Doctor’s Don’t Tell, “One study showed a successful online buy rate of 94 percent by youngsters aged 14 to 17, and none of the delivery companies made any attempt to verify the ages of the recipients.”


An Ounce of Poison

Vaping, regardless of being seemingly less unhealthy than cigarettes, are still not healthy.  Nicotine, whether inhaled by smoke or vape, “builds up gradually in smokers’ brains” as every study concludes.  “Nicotine then binds to neural receptors” in the brain and “each time nicotine is received… stronger neural pathways which expect the delivery of nicotine begin to develop [and] over time begins to treat nicotine as necessary for our survival, not unlike food and water.” (from A Choice to


The chronic use of nicotine in any form leads to the brain disease known as addiction.  This is a 100% probability of chronic nicotine use. Despite claims that less nicotine is delivered per vape inhalation versus per cigarette smoke inhalation, what is ignored is that as the user’s brain becomes addicted to nicotine, it demands more nicotine to satisfy the craving. Nicotine is nicotine.  The body does not care how it was delivered.


The Ugly

What exactly is in the typical Vape “juice”?

  • Water: Check.
  • Nicotine – well, we knew that: Check.
  • Flavoring, usually food grade stuff… which is not

intended to be inhaled, but, Check.

  • Vegetable glycerin: Hmmm.  Vegetables are good,

right?  But this stuff, which is used as a preservative

in food, is used as a sweetener and thickener

for vape juice.  Well, OK… Check.

  • Propylene glycol. Yeah, no checkmark here.

No joke, propylene glycol is used in antifreeze (the stuff you put in your car) and rock concert fog machines.  Propylene glycol in e-cig juice serves to ensure your body is absorbing vape chemicals more efficiently.  It also serves to smooth the naturally harsh tastes of nicotine.


The other chemicals, depending on your brand, can include diacetyl, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein, pentanedione, and acetoin. None of which is good.  If your vape of choice doesn’t list its full ingredients… find another one.


Worse, according to Scientific American, the juice might be bad, but the delivery system could be worse. “Various studies suggest the vapors from e-cigarettes contain… incredibly tiny particles of tin, chromium, nickel and other heavy metals, which, in large enough concentrations [over time], can damage the lungs. These particles likely fleck off the solder joints or metal coil in the devices when heated. Because they are so small, the tiniest bits of metal, known as nanoparticles, can travel deep into the lungs.”


Though e-liquid comes in various strengths of nicotine, and there is an argument that not as much of that nicotine is absorbed into the system as cigarette smoke, the straight comparison to cigarettes are admitted by the vaping industry. A 10ml bottle of 20mg nicotine e-liquid contains a total of 200mg of nicotine in it.  That’s equal to an average pack of cigarettes.


Further the device must be kept clean or its calibrated functions can fail, leading to “a mouthful of bitter juice”… which is to say, a direct and highly concentrated dose of nicotine – which is truly ugly. According to Wired Magazine, “in liquid form, even tiny amounts [of nicotine that] are ingested or make contact with skin can induce vomiting, seizures and even death.”  Any manually refilling of a cartridge should be done wearing gloves.


The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Truth

The vape user has to be honest with themselves.  Vaping isn’t good.  Though it may be less harmful than smoking, that argument is thin at best. The long term effects of cigarette use are well known, and take time to develop in most people.  As vaping is still relatively new (yet still akin to cigarettes) its long term effects have yet to be revealed.  But it is obvious. They will be seen. As over 16 million Americans are living with a smoking related disease and smoking is responsible for some 480,000 deaths per year, the question is what the long term statistics on vaping will be?


It is obvious, this article isn’t going to stop people from vaping. Frankly, that was never the intention.  But, our effort to avoid the typical preachy fact driven arguments against the use of nicotine products does come with a “fair warning” of another kind to the vape user.  Most cigarette smokers started their smoking careers in an era where the dangers of smoking were fairly unknown.  They got duped.  But we now know the dangers of nicotine use. Everybody knows it.  So, to the vape user: If you eventually become a health statistic, suck it up, so to speak, and don’t dare ever complain about your illness.  But, on the other hand, to be fair, if you live a long and healthy life and prove that vaping was never a real danger to your health (not a chance by the way), feel free to e-mail me in 20 years to brag about how wrong I am.

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