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 hes 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 friends 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. Its considered rude to smoke inside peoples 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. Its 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 theres a lot scientists still dont 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. Its part of growing up. Better cigarettes than a party pill such as MDMA. Better still,an e-ciggie. But if its not bad for you,how is it cool? E-ciggies have no cool punch. They dont say nonchalant recklessness,they say caution. Pressure groups fear e-ciggies may renormalise smoking,undermining the strong anti-cool message theyve been spending on for so many years. I suspect the opposite will happen once the novelty factor wears off theyll 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.