Mirza Kadrovic, 46, works in healthcare, specialising in residential support. He lit his first cigarette when he was 17. The last one when he was 41. He is one of many thousands of former smokers in Sweden who now use nicotine in a less harmful way. Five years ago he got an e-cig, and then he was done with cigarettes.
"Now it's the same feeling with coffee as it was when I smoked. But much better for your health and much cheaper," he tells Vejpkollen.
- UIn the spring of 2023, the Road studs with Convenience Stores Sweden News to depict Swedish nicotine consumption, beyond the statistics. This is a slightly modified version of the original report that was published in CSS News. -
After 24 years of smoking, Mirza Kadrovic has had enough.
"I didn't really want to stop smoking. I lived alone, smoked indoors, and didn't really care. But one morning after coffee, I threw up. And there was something about the smell that I still remember clearly. I still get a bit anxious when I think about it. It smelled like a cigarette butt. It made me make the decision."
He then smoked a packet a day. He had been doing it since he was 17.
"Both my mum and dad smoked when I was growing up. Many people smoke in Bosnia and it was quite natural. But everyone smokes for different reasons, I think. For me, it was the feeling of pulling something down my throat. And the routine of doing it every morning, with the coffee, was very important for the functioning of life."
From Volvo to therapeutic care
Mirza and I usually meet from time to time. He works in health care in Kortedala, a suburb of Gothenburg where I both live and have an office. He often moves between different homes and likes to stop for a chat. He moved to Sweden 20 years ago. It was love that brought him here and he married in 2002. He quickly took a job in the car industry. Then in health care.
"I worked for 8 years at Volvo before retraining. I like meeting people and working in treatment care suited me very well," he says in his gravelly voice when we meet on a sunny spring morning. He is, as usual, on his way to work.
Testing e-cigs early on
In spring 2018, after the brutal awakening that morning in his apartment, he went to one of Gothenburg's vape shops to find something to replace his cigarettes. It was not the first time he tried a vape, he says.
"I actually got an e-cig six years earlier, in 2012. It was a small version, the ones that were available at the time - a battery and a tank. I managed to stay smoke-free for 4 months actually, with an e-liquid that tasted like Red Bull. But that tank was leaking all the time and there was a mess everywhere. I even stopped using it altogether and was even nicotine-free for a while. Until I visited my mum in Bosnia. Then I had a cigarette with my coffee again. And that was it."
Effective in smoking cessation
E-cigarettes for smoking cessation are not recommended by the public health authorities. Instead, it refers to products classified as medicines, such as patches and chewing gum. Nonetheless a very high number of people relapse to smoking within one year of quitting, regardless of the method used, including medicines. However, the evidence today suggests that e-cigarettes, in comparative studies, are twice as effective as traditional nicotine medicines. In particular for heavy smokers.
"Mirza's second attempt with e-cigarettes was very different from the first," he says.
"The hardest part was finding the right flavour and the "right" way to vape. I tried different models, first those that gave a lot of vapour and then those that gave less vapour. But it was only when I learnt how to build my own coil that things came together. Then I realised that it was possible to get it just the way I wanted."
Building its own roadmap
Today, five years later, he uses a larger modd, the part that contains the batteries and control chip, in combination with a smaller tank - a so-called re-buildable. Instead of buying vaporisers, the part that needs to be replaced periodically in an e-cigarette, he "builds" that part himself.
"It's not something I would recommend anyone to do, especially when you go from smoking to vaping. But it wasn't very hard to learn. You spin a filament into a smooth coil and screw it into the tank. It will last a very long time and cost almost nothing. When it starts to taste burnt, I just change the wick material. It consists of specially made cotton that you can buy in a weapon shop. Also cheap. I like it when it's cheap," he laughs.
Finding the right feel for the coffee
When we meet this morning in Kortedala, he has been driving this way for several years. He has bought a new tank a few times, but the e-liquid has been the same, he says.
"It tastes like a mixture of coffee, cake and tobacco. I'm so used to it that I can't really describe it to anyone who asks. It will probably always be like that. The taste buds get used to it and it just tastes "good". Like the cigarette. Now it's the same feeling with coffee as it was when I smoked. But much better for your health and much cheaper." he says.
Meeting many smokers at work
The financial aspect is something he comes back to. Smoking is very expensive, especially if you smoke a packet or more a day. Something he has become very aware of, if only through his work. Smoking rates among people with mental health diagnoses are higher than in the general population. In the UK, statistics show that nearly 40 per cent of those with mental health difficulties smokes, compared to 14 per cent on average. The same is true in Sweden.
Mirza works mainly with people who have mental disabilities. Many users have diagnoses within the autistic spectrum.
"They function well enough to live in their own flats. But several of them smoke a lot. It is often because they are bored. Many sit at home all day and the cigarette becomes their only pleasure. They smoke like chimneys, go outside or 'cheat' inside the flat."
Few care about health
Health is rarely high on the list of priorities, at least among the people Mirza works with. But the economy can be a starting point for dialogue, even if he is careful not to give any pointers. The fact that he himself is a road user opens up some discussions, he says.
"It's not my job to give them advice. But many are quite poor and spend a lot of money on cigarettes. And they see that I have my machine. Some say it looks like a weapon," he laughs and takes a puff - the blue rectangular box glistens in the sun.
"Of course, I do not recommend that a smoker should go out and buy an expensive advanced kit for over a thousand dollars. There are much simpler ways to vape. Almost as cheap. A simple pod system for SEK 300 is a good start. And a few bottles of e-juice"
Persuading heavy smokers - with an economic calculation
He remembers a user who smoked cigarettes for SEK 5,000 a month. Several packs a day.
"He lit the cigarette butt. Was out on the balcony, whatever the weather, all the time. He was very sceptical about e-cigarettes, worried that it would be worse than smoking. Where he had heard that, one can only guess. It's nonsense. At the time, the money was gone by the beginning of the month. I challenged him a bit, wrote down on a note what he should ask for in the shop: a pod system and two flavours. I promised to help him get it up and running, and if it didn't work, I would buy it from him. After a few months, we met again, took out a pen and paper and did some maths. He had replaced almost all his cigarettes with vapes and had more than halved the cost that month. And then he really didn't want to get rid of that 'thing'" says Mirza, smiling a little and winking behind his sunglasses.
"Of course, the best thing would be to not put anything in your lungs except air. But we all know that it doesn't really work that way, right?"
Advantages and disadvantages
I ask him about the debate on vaping and the development of new e-cigarettes, such as disposable models and the heat-not-burn system Iqos.
"I actually often keep a disposable model in the car, just in case. The problem is that they always taste like menthol - which I've never liked. They're quite expensive too, but certainly a good start for many smokers. Same with Iqos. I bought one for my mum a few years ago. It worked for a while. The advantage was that she could not "chain smoke" on it, as it switches off after a while. But unfortunately, after a year or so, she started smoking as usual again. Her son's mother, who also lives in Bosnia, only uses Iqos now. It's bigger down there than here, I feel like"
Better sense of smell - for better or worse
It's time to part ways and Mirza heads for the car to start the next shift at the shelter. He stops by a lilac bush and picks some freshly cut flowers from the branch.
"To the car!" he says. "Write that one advantage of not smoking anymore is that you can actually smell things now. But that's for better or worse. See you!" he laughs and drives off down the hill.