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Technology Trends: When Tech Meets Toke
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Technology Trends: When Tech Meets Toke - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: When Tech Meets Toke

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: When Tech Meets Toke

Very few people have no opinion on the popularity and practice of electronic smoking, commonly called “vaping,” in reference to aerosol vapor produced by e-smoking devices. Some say it’s a mostly harmless alternative to smoking, while others insist that there are health risks even when vapers opt for nicotine-free ingredients. Some claim vaping is a step away from cigarettes toward complete cessation, while others point to the practice as a gateway for young people, potentially leading to traditional smoking.

An e-cig is basically a device that heats and vaporizes an alcohol-based solution, which is inhaled by the user. The solution (or e-juice) contains flavoring ingredients and usually (but not always) nicotine. A button on the device activates the battery-powered heating element that turns e-juice into vape.

Most non-vapers agree that the vape itself can be a nuisance, and while long-term studies on any of these concerns haven’t yet borne fruitful data, at least one small study seems to indicate that second-hand vape may carry hazards proportional to first-hand vape as second-hand smoke does to first-hand smoke. For these reasons, vaping, once a maverick product in a free-for-all, unregulated market, is finding itself increasingly restricted. In most places where smoking isn’t allowed, neither is vaping, and in many states, one must be aged 21 years or older.

The purpose of this article is not to take sides on the wisdom or risk of vaping, nor to make a statement on its cultural-social appropriateness. Rather, recent stories in the news about popular e-cigs resembling USB flash drives and their popularity in high schools prompted us to take a look at the technological aspect of electronic smoking devices. Where there are electronics, there is some geeky interest, not to mention all the hacking possibilities for those who like to get under the hood on anything techy.

It turns out there’s a techie appeal beyond anything we’d have guessed. According to a survey conducted by one retailer of vaping products, most vapers prefer their experience right out of the box, limiting their variable options to the e-juice they put into their devices and various physical options such as size and capacity.

However, an impressive-sized minority (in response to most questions in the survey, around thirty percent) does want more control over their vaping, such as burn temperature and amount of vapor per inhalation. The existence of this minority is hardly surprising: it exists in all realms of geeky fascination, whether the object of fascination is comic books, cars, cameras, or computers. It’s clear that for a meaningful portion of the vaping market, some of the fanatic appeal comes from a love of gadgetry similar to that of avid digital photographers.

Modifications (or “mods”) to e-cig devices include “low ohm” coils, which burn with lower electrical resistance to create thicker vapor clouds for enthusiasts known as “cloud chasers.” Different mixtures of vape juice, usually propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG), adjust “throat hit,” smoothness, and vapor amounts according to the vaper’s preference. This makes it easy to see where the tech-heads get their obsession. For those of us born to tinker and hack, the vaping mods are almost enough to get non-smokers at least interested in what’s going on with all that gear.

Several high-end e-cigs come with Bluetooth connectivity, pairing a device to a smartphone app that lets the user monitor and control burn temperature and wattage, track a lost e-cig, and warn the user of low batteries. It’s a good start, but there doesn’t seem to be an e-cig that provides social connections, the way fitness trackers let you compare your daily-weekly-monthly steps with your friends. If vaping is largely about fun, why not gamify the activity in some way? Or why not add an augmented reality approach that turns an e-cig into sports equipment or a weapon with which to combat bad guys?

These questions point to potential trends worth dreaming about. Is there some other physically visceral experience like smoking that can be semi-replicated with an electronic counterpart? As with most technology, someone out there is certainly thinking of some way to sexualize it, but what about other pleasant or therapeutic physical sensations, such as relaxing in a hot tub, getting a foot massage, having a strong cup of coffee, or napping?

If technology like this does in fact make it easier for people to give up harmful addictions, what other behaviors can be addressed in this way? Is there electronic hope for the alcoholic, overeater, or couch potato? Considering what a simple, physical activity cigarette smoking is and how there is now a whole frontier of electronic substitution for it, it seems maybe we’re lagging in other realms where something can turn our vices into something less harmful.


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