I can’t stand do-gooders using the law to manage my lifestyle. Okay, smoking is unpleasant and (mildly) dangerous to others; I would accept smoke-free restaurants and offices. But what gave politicians the right to stop me smoking in private clubs and small bars? The self-righteous just don’t recognise compromise.
Galling though such bans are, they could become moot thanks to a better and healthier alternative to smoking that has emerged in recent years: electronic cigarettes. I first tried e-cigarettes in 2009. I found they were nearly as good as the real thing, I could use them anywhere and they were cheap. I haven’t smoked a cigarette since and I feel great. Starting with a little white stick, emulating a fag, I soon moved to something more satisfying – there’s a great choice of devices, improving all the time. At a recent Westminster meeting, one MP compared my current favourite with Doctor Who‘s sonic screwdriver!
E-cigarettes deliver nicotine without combustion. Nicotine is relatively harmless, comparable to caffeine – a mild stimulant. Conventional cigarettes are dangerous because they burn, filling our lungs with tar and smoke particles. E-cigarettes produce a fine vapour, without all the carcinogens and chemicals found in cigarette smoke. The risks from e-cigarettes are insignificant compared with smoking tobacco. Nor is there any ‘Wild West’ of unfettered selling going on: e-cigarettes are already heavily regulated in the UK, just like most other consumer products.
However, in a typical example of snatching public-health defeat from the jaws of victory, in December 2012, the EU accepted a proposal to revise the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), which was first adopted in 2001. Among the many provisions in the revised TPD is a rule that would allow the sale of e-cigarettes ‘only if they have been authorised as medicinal products on the basis of their quality, safety and efficacy, and with a positive risk/benefit balance’. Perversely, the Tobacco Products Directive would heavily regulate a potentially invaluable product that doesn’t actually contain tobacco. The upshot would be to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes unless they had gone through the lengthy and expensive testing processes that medicines are subjected to, reducing choice and increasing cost.
Since e-cigarettes appeared in 2006, the UK market has flourished. Products are continually refined, with better battery technology, new delivery mechanisms and a variety of styles and flavours to appeal to diverse tastes. Sales have grown rapidly - the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) estimates sales have been rising 34 per cent per year, with some 700,000 UK users last year and perhaps a million ‘vapers’ in 2013.