I’ve been in the process of quitting smoking for nearly two years. It’s been an uphill battle of false starts, nicotine withdrawals, elephantine levels of caffeine and an angry spouse.
I want to quit. Desperately. It’s just too damn bad I love tobacco and its wonderfully stimulating effects. So since I gave up the cigarette habit, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the world of vaporizers.
Primarily used as an alternative form of smoking various herbs (yes, that one too), vaporizers heat up dried plant material to a level just below the point of combustion. The plant matter gets hot enough that the active ingredients are extracted in a vapor, but there’s no smoke and no fire. You inhale just like you would off a cigarette or pipe. The only evidence that you’ve taken in anything other than warm air is a barely noticeable puff of thin vapor when you exhale. No visual particulates, no acrid smoke.
Most vaporizers are big and bulky — table-top appliances to be left in the home. There are portable models available, but they are imperfect, delicate, and often very expensive.
Then there’s the Pax, a pocket-sized, rechargeable vaporizer that costs $250. It’s designed in San Francisco by Ploom and manufactured in China. It’s more attractive and more user-friendly than any other vaporizer I’ve seen. After a few weeks of using it, I believe it could do for alternative smoking methods what the iPod did for MP3s — take an existing, but nascent, technology and propel it into the mainstream.
The Pax measures a little over four inches long and about an inch and a half wide, with a subtly curved aluminum frame. The materials and the quality of the finish equal what’s found on a premium mobile device. On the bottom is a removable, magnetized lid that covers the stainless steel “oven” and keeps your smokeables in place. At the top is a mouthpiece that, when depressed, pops out and activates the heating element.
Ploom recommends grinding your herbs into relatively fine pieces and lightly tamping them down into the bowl with the magnetized lid. After loading it, you push the mouthpiece down to switch it on. The mouthpiece pops back out and a star-shaped light on the body begins glowing purple as the oven begins to heat.
It takes about 20 to 30 seconds for the Pax to get up to operating (and vaporizing) temperature. When the Pax is ready for puffing, the star-shaped light glows green.
I tried a few different blends of tobacco, including a strong pipe mixture and a more traditional rolling tobacco. Materials with more moisture provide a thicker vapor, while drier blends force you to suck harder to get a deep drag. Ploom takes this moisture variation into account and allows you to change the temperature setting by simply pulling off the mouthpiece and pressing down on a lighted button to cycle through three different temperature modes: low, medium and high heat. The highest heat setting worked best for rolling tobacco.
Even set to its hottest setting, the Pax never gets uncomfortable to the touch — just warm, like a laptop playing a video. And while the vapor delivers the same punch, it lacks the smoke-filled exhale, which makes it slightly less gratifying than a cigarette, cigar or pipe (or even an e-cigarette). But such is the price of progress.
Further refining the concept, the Pax has a motion sensor which recognizes when it’s been put down and automatically lowers the heat level. As soon as you pick it up, the oven clicks back on and your blend is ready to go in a matter of seconds. That same motion sensor allows you to check the battery’s charge between smoking sessions by shaking it, with the light blinking green when topped up and red when it’s almost out of juice. Over the course of several days using the Pax a half dozen times, I found a single charge on the 2,600 mAh battery would last the majority of the day. To recharge it, you place it in the included charging stand, which plugs into the wall.
The Pax is a trick little package that takes the nasty habit of smoking and brings it into the 21st century with high-end materials, consumer-level simplicity and supreme portability. And because it doesn’t rely on proprietary pods or liquids, you don’t have to search around for suitable materials to vaporize. Even better, since no smoke is produced, the Pax could conceivably be used indoors and in public settings, assuming you’re OK with explaining what it is, what it does and how it works it to confused on-lookers.