There are good and bad reasons for electing to use electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) rather than tobacco products. The good reasons include convenience, health concerns, and circumventing non-smoking rules. A bad reason is using e-cigs due to some ridiculous urban legend regarding regular cigarettes. Let’s debunk one popular myth: inhaling filtered cigarettes from the wrong end causes genital dysfunction.
It started with a scare email that went out in 2000. It talked about the likelihood of occasionally lighting the wrong end of your filtered cigarette due to drunkenness, distraction, or darkness. You light up, take a deep drag, and then cough your brains out. The nasty taste haunts you for a while, and you are very careful to light your next smoke correctly. So far, so good. Then the email jumped the shark by stating that filters contain a chemical called tralfamadoraphyl. The chemical was claimed to generally be harmless unless it is burned and inhaled. Then, the chemical builds up in your body and blocks blood flow to your reproductive organs, in both sexes. Supposedly, if you lit the wrong end once a month, you would have a serious problem within three to four years.
Yikes! I mean, what smoker hasn’t occasionally lit the wrong end of their cigarette? Relax, it’s a fake. Were there any telltale signs that we were dealing with an urban legend? Sure: unnamed scientists, unnamed study, greedy tobacco companies wanting to make a buck even if it sacrifices your health (wait a minute, that last one is true…). Anyway, there is no such thing as tralfamadoraphyl. The word was coined by a reader of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five; Tralfamador is the mythical prison planet holding Billy Pilgrim. The Vonnegut fan simply appended the suffix –phyl, which sounds scientific, like chlorophyll.
The only problem with smoking the wrong end of a modern cigarette is getting the taste of burning cellulose out of your mouth. It’s truly awful. In the old days, (between 1952 and 1956) filters were less innocent — Kent had a filter that contained asbestos! Then, in 1995, Philip Morris had to recall 8 billion filtered cigarettes due to contamination that formed a pesticide. Since then, filters have been pretty innocuous. The filter doesn’t kill you, it’s the tobacco. That’s a valid reason to use tobacco alternatives such as nicotine gum, nicotine patches and e-cigs. And that is no myth.