The use of e-cigarette's — or vaping — has laboured under a cloud of uncertainty and controversy since its introduction to society a little over a decade ago.
A surge in popularity in recent years has helped to catapult the activity into the limelight as more and more people turn to vaping as an alternative to smoking.
For Trenton resident, Hamish Dodge, the jump to vaping became a priority after a meeting with his doctor.
“I was quite sick for a couple of years and I had a conversation with my specialist and it wasn't one of those general 'you know you really should quit smoking' conversations it was a 'you should quit smoking or your life trajectory goes downhill pretty quick',” said Dodge.
Dodge had been diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an auto-immune disease which had originated in his lungs and lymph nodes. That diagnoses came after a long list of tests including an operation on his lungs to determine whether it was sarcoidosis or lung cancer.
“I needed an alternative because quitting cold turkey wasn't doing it,” said Dodge, who at that point was a half-a-pack a day smoker of 25 years.
“I loved it for 25 years. There were times that I hated it because I wanted to be healthier, I had children and I wanted to quit smoking so I could be a better example.
“I didn't want my son to ask me every other day to quit smoking because he was afraid I was going to die of cancer.
“They saw me get sick, they saw me go into the hospital, they saw me get carved up. I didn't want them to see me not helping myself not to let that happen again.
“I smoked my last cigarette at noon on a Saturday, went to the shop, bought my first starter kit, picked out a couple flavours of juice and pretty much haven't looked back.”
While Dodge admits he still has some concerns in regards to the long-term effects of vaping — given the limited amount of data available for such a relatively new activity — his health has seen definite improvement since making the switch.
“While nothing going into your lungs is better than something, e-juice is always going to be the lesser evil than cigarettes. There's thousands of chemicals in cigarettes and you're dealing with a small handful in e-juice. Most of which are considered safe.
“While there's no long-term evidence to prove that inhaling those substances isn't safe I can tell you, for myself, since going back to see my specialist on a regular basis and doing breathing tests and lung capacity tests my lungs have improved since I quit smoking.”
An entire culture has started to grow around e-cigarettes and those who use them, from vape meets at local shops, cloud contests – to see who can make the largest vape cloud — to even large scale events like Toronto's Vapecan.
“That was a spectacle,” said Dodge who attended Vapecan last year. “People are building a society around vaping, it's insane.”
He goes on to describe walking through giant clouds of vapour while dance music blared away and vendors hawked gear and e-juice from many booths.
“That's when I realized how much of a big deal it is to somebody”
One subset of this newly minted culture are juice makers. Modern-day alchemists continually tinkering with recipes for their own unique blends of e-juice.
“They'll sit there and talk your ear off about what they did to make that flavour, or to make that blend that they did because that's their passion,” said Dodge.
“You wouldn't believe the amount of juice shops that are popping up all over the place. The states is crazy. You could search to the end of the internet and not run out of e-juice shops.”
With growing popularity comes growing scrutinization by government regulatory bodies.
With Bill 45 the province of Ontario was on track to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places, offices, businesses and even in vape shops starting Jan.1 of this year. A stance they've since backed away from.
A ban such as the one originally considered would be disastrous for vape shops and users of e-cigarettes alike says Mathew Bardeau, an employee at The Stinky Canuck vape shop in Quinte West.
“If we can't show our customers how to use it, how to maintain it and how to use it properly, they will get annoyed with it,” he said. “They won't have the proper instructions on how to use it and they'll stop using it.”
Bardeau goes on to add the ban would've prevented shops from even firing up a device to perform troubleshooting or to educate new users on how to use the devices.
Something that could even be dangerous with some of the more advanced gear says Dodge.
“When you get into bigger gear... the devices you have to actually put batteries into and attach atomizers to... if you're not using that equipment properly it's either not going to work right for you and you're going to hate it, it's going to malfunction or it's going to be dangerous.
“I mean, we're dealing with electricity here right. If you don't respect the electricity, the electricity's not going to respect you.”
Educating people is one of the most important parts for someone new to vaping he adds.
“You can't really educate people a whole lot on how to light a cigarette. You screw it into your lips and you flick your lighter and away you go,” he laughed. “There's a little more that goes into starting vaping.”