Smoke Without Fire

Are e-cigarettes a better alternative to tobacco?

Written by Leher Kala | Published: August 12, 2013 4:26 am

I had never seen an electronic cigarette till last weekend in Singapore. A friend,a heavy smoker for at least two decades,made the switch from regular to e-cigarettes a couple of months ago and says he’s feeling great. He gets to hold a slightly odd,white pen-shaped faux cigarette that actually lights up with a bright red light and blows odourless smoke. In keeping with our tech lifestyles,it looks appropriately space age and comes with

a charger — regular smokes look so ’80s in comparison.

Unfortunately,customs at the Singapore airport declared them illegal and confiscated my friend’s fake fags,but he has a small stash to keep going for a couple of months,by when he hopes to kick the habit for good. E-cigarettes turn liquid nicotine into vapour and also come in a variety of flavours,mimicking a regular cigarette or even bubblegum and chocolate. Said to be far less harmful than the real thing,optimists believe they have the potential to change us into a tobacco-free world.

Smokers hardly have it easy these days. Decades of anti-smoking campaigns have taken cigarettes out of public spaces. Restaurants and malls are out of bounds. It’s considered rude to smoke inside people’s homes. When you go to watch a movie,the ghastly anti-tobacco film,(highly effective no doubt) that all of us,including non-smokers,are forced to endure can be played upto three times during one movie. Smokers are constantly under pressure to quit — at home,spouses complain about the smell,children send parents on guilt trips about their habit. It’s also a question of economics — they are prohibitively expensive. In Australia,a pack can cost $16,or Rs 60 per cigarette,which is exactly like putting your money into a fire. E-cigarettes are a cheaper option,not to mention a lot easier on your lungs and throat.

Maybe e-cigarettes will turn out to be that magic alternative that allows you to indulge in the bad habit of smoking without any of the consequences. A little like being able to eat pastry daily and not worry about getting fat. In France last year,tobacco sales fell to their lowest in a decade with 8.1 per cent students preferring to experiment with e-cigarettes than the real thing. They have been validated now that Leonardo DiCaprio was spotted puffing on one.

But there’s a lot scientists still don’t know. Like the long-term effects of inhaling nicotine or the effects of second-hand vapour. Will the next generation even be smoking? No matter how high-tech we get,the young will always find bad habits to experiment with and embrace. It’s part of growing up. Better cigarettes than a party pill such as MDMA. Better still,an e-ciggie. But if it’s not bad for you,how is it cool? E-ciggies have no cool punch. They don’t say nonchalant recklessness,they say caution. Pressure groups fear e-ciggies may renormalise smoking,undermining the strong anti-cool message they’ve been spending on for so many years. I suspect the opposite will happen — once the novelty factor wears off they’ll be perceived as effete. But while the world works out the complicated etiquette around e-cigarettes,at least we can blow cancer-free smoke,guilt-free.

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