Nellie Bowles says those who vape are like ‘little gerbils licking their water dispensers.’ Including Michael Moynihan. Read Fight Club from The Free Press.
(Illustration by The Free Press, images via Getty Images)

Fight Club: Vapes vs. Cigarettes

Nellie Bowles says those who vape are like ‘little gerbils licking their water dispensers.’ Including Michael Moynihan.

Perhaps you were affected by tobacco giant Philip Morris’s sudden suspension of online sales of their popular Zyn pouches after D.C.’s attorney general issued a subpoena citing a 2022 ban on the sale of flavored tobacco. Maybe you’re still clutching your Juul, or opting to go old school and take part in the cigarette-aissance, sucking down Marlboro reds.

Regardless of your preferred method, nicotine is having a moment

And the burning question we’re debating on Slack is what’s the best method of intake? The vape or the tried-and-true cig? One may be worse for your health, but is the other worse for your soul? To settle the score, we turn to Nellie Bowles and Michael Moynihan: 

Here’s Nellie, who has a baby in her belly but cigarettes in her heart: 

I am here to defend smoking cigarettes over the disgusting, weasel-like “vaping” because I am here to defend pleasure. 

A casual observer might be surprised that I’m involved in all this. See, I’m 37 weeks’ pregnant with an enormous baby. On top of that, I’m a health nut. I use a treadmill desk, refuse to eat food out of plastic, and drink specially delivered spring water. Don’t ask me about air filtration systems unless you have three hours to spare. 

But do you know the first thing I’m going to do after I’m fully recovered from birth? I’m going to hand this gorgeous, fish oil–infused little baby to my mom, meet up with some friends, and I’m going to sit outside with two things in hand: an extra-spicy margarita—and an American cigarette. It will be a rare and special indulgence, and I can’t wait. 

We love to water down our pleasures and our thoughts, lest anything be too intense, whether too good or too hard. We drink low-fat milk, which isn’t really healthier at all but just slightly less pleasurable—so it must be better, right? We eat low-fat, low-sugar desserts, chock-full of oils and artificial sweeteners. We work in open-plan offices surrounded by people pinging “present” to avoid the risk of being alone and facing the cold truth of hard work. And we smoke vapes, since they can be used indoors and in bathrooms, tucked in jackets for a quick hit, hunched and secretive. 

As with everything else, we neutered smoking: and for what?  

Obviously a vape can deliver nicotine. But mostly it’s a statement of a compulsive need. It would be like me drinking a virgin extra-spicy margarita with non-alcoholic fake tequila during my pregnancy. What’s the point? To give myself half pleasure? To admit that I cannot fight a craving and pretend I’m getting the thing I want? No, I control myself. On nights out with friends these past months, when they’re having cocktails, I drink a glass of cold water, like an adult. 

Some things I like about a cigarette (non-exhaustive): the burn, the fire, the smoke. It’s naughty and it feels naughty. Similar to whole milk and a real cake and a de-virgined extra-spicy margarita, it’s simply better. In non-pregnant times, I have one every couple months, and it’s amazing each and every time. 

Meanwhile, I see the vapers, like little gerbils licking their water dispensers. And I think, What’s wrong with these people? And here, I join no doubt a large chorus of women when I ask: What’s wrong with Michael Moynihan? 

And here is Michael, to answer that question, and a few others about the vape life: 

On the day I published a piece in The Wall Street Journal about the joys of smoking, I quit. While smoking was part of my identity (I haven’t smoked in years, but will forever consider myself a smoker) and still looked very cool (people no longer think this, but they are wrong), my daughter needed an uncool and smoke-free father, no matter how otherwise incompetent he was.

I’m fond of quoting my late friend Christopher Hitchens, whose esophageal cancer was doubtless precipitated by both excessive tobacco and alcohol consumption: “[Smoking] stopped me being bored, stopped other people being boring, to some extent. It would keep me awake. It would make me want the evening to go on longer, to prolong the conversation, to enhance the moment. If I was asked, would I do it again, the answer is probably yes.”

I smoked hundreds of cigarettes with Hitchens and enjoyed every one, but I’m afraid my answer would be a firm no. 

I suspect Nellie is defending casual smoking, social smoking, while at the same time quietly insisting that those who want to fill their lungs with smoke be allowed to do so, unimpeded by our punitive government.

On this, we agree. 

But the enemies of smoking, having presided over the unconditional surrender of Big Tobacco, have now taken to spreading stupid and dangerous ideas about vaping. On this score, the neckbeards blowing plumes of watermelon-flavored smoke, the weirdos making “vape juice” in their basements, need to be defended. We’re protecting ourselves from a much worse fate. 

A close friend recently told me that vaping was “undeniably” more harmful than smoking cigarettes, a scientifically illiterate claim frequently made by vaping’s enemies. A number of years ago, Dr. Michael Siegel, then a professor at Boston University School of Medicine and a longtime foe of Big Tobacco, told me that if everyone who smokes cigarettes switched to vaping tomorrow, we would save millions of lives a year. Vaping isn’t killing ex-smokers. It’s saving their lives.

It’s a cliché at this point to say that one cannot look cool vaping. Like running with a backpack, no matter how hard one tries, it’s best not to even try to make it look dignified. But that’s not the point of vaping: not smoking is. 

As to Ms. Bowles’ exit question, which she rightly assumes has fallen from the lips of many women: What is wrong with Michael Moynihan? It is indeed a long and ugly list. But for those adventurous lasses willing to overlook the predictable peccadilloes, the obvious mental health challenges, and the beautiful bone structure, I will be here, reasonably healthy, doubtless free of cancer, in possession of functioning lungs, definitely gripping a ludicrous vape in some ludicrous flavor, ready to make all of your dreams come true.

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Follow Michael Moynihan on X @mcmoynihan and listen to him host another debate, about whether marijuana legalization was a good idea, on Honestly. Get Nellie Bowles’ takes every week with TGIF and follow her on X @NellieBowles.

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