By David Cross
Britain woke up to the news that the ruling Labour party in Wales is set to ban vaping in all public places. Annoying to vapers living in the principality, troubling for those across the border in England, it’s the first time such draconian action has been taken and whipped up media interest, radio debate and shouting.
Shirley, an angry caller from a small-minded town somewhere in England, phoned into the BBC 5Live debate: “It smelt so bad, Nicky,” she said. “I felt like hitting him with my handbag.” She was talking about the moron who thought it was acceptable to vape in a doctor’s waiting room.
And this is our national conversation about vaping. On one hand we have the politicians and public health activists bent on an ideological mission against Big Tobacco (content in the knowledge that all nicotine is a bad thing and the public are so stupid they need protecting from themselves). Sitting next to them are the massed ranks of the stupid; it looks like smoking and their children are probably stupid enough to believe it is smoking.
“I was looking about for the person wearing the awful aftershave,” Shirley added. “And I saw him smoking his electric cigarette thing with a smug look on his face.” Shirley began to crescendo to the point of apoplexy now. “Children were looking at him, Nicky,” the woman was aghast. “Children were looking at him,” repeated as if to add meaning to when she exclaimed it the first time.
Of course, her words were meaningless; if we were banning offensive things (in case children looked at them and were possibly influenced) then I’d be campaigning for restrictions on The Kardashians, anything that’s Got Talent, everything in the pop charts and Piers Morgan.
“It’s a very divisive issue this,” announced Nicky as he introduced Professor John Britton. Britton is a Professor of Epidemiology and Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at the University of Nottingham—probably the U.K.’s foremost expert on all matter smoking and vaping.
Britton interjected a brief period of common sense and calmness to the proceedings … a very brief period. Maybe his car was parked on an expiring meter? Possibly he needed to hop off and do a bit of shopping? The chances are that DJ Nicky Campbell simply preferred to have more people getting angry at each other, not reaching a point and created nothing more than a wall of noise.
“For the most part, as some of your contributors have said,” explained Professor John, “not using e-cigs near others is a matter of courtesy.” For a nation that prides itself on its politeness we don’t seem to be very good at it anymore. Whether intentionally or not, the professor’s point probably runs to the heart of our national vaping debate—people don’t care about the science, they only care about what they see as rude behavior.
What is it that drives someone to think that it is socially acceptable to vape in a doctor’s reception? For sure, from research we know it has negligible effect on those nearby (and I hardly think such a person is a role model for anything) but this isn’t the point, is it? Vapers are so good at shooting themselves in the foot—maybe that is why he was there? Maybe it wasn’t a smug expression but a grimace of pain.
“The evidence is just not there regarding hazards to others,” continued Britton as he explained why people should be given the opportunity to use an alternative to cigarettes. While supporting the idea that using them in a waiting room was poor form, he did advocate the use of e-cigs on hospital wards. His wards, he gave as an example, have people vaping under the bed sheets. The National Health Service has banned vaping from hospital grounds but the wise professor sees this as an act of nonsense.
Britton expanded: “We’ve got to get real, the majority smoke to get nicotine and they’d rather do it without smoking. The patches don’t replace the hand to mouth motion and people are addicted to the rigmarole of smoking. Over the months and years of smoking you develop the enjoyment of the other aspects of smoking – the ritual.”
But those who do not agree with those sentiments inspired this debate.
“E-cigs face ban for ‘re-normalizing smoking,’” barked Murdoch’s Sky News. “Wales’ Health Minister Mark Drakeford said e-cigarettes were a ‘gateway’ to deadly tobacco.”
“We have worked so hard in Wales to try and bear down on the harm that smoking does,” said Drakeford, ignoring all science and opinion to the contrary, “and allowing e-cigarettes to be used in the way they currently are risks undoing the progress that has been made.”
On the radio show, Drakeford highlighted the main problem faced by people trying to implement the ban on smoking: they can’t tell what is a cigarette and what is a vaping device. The argument probably highlights Drakeford’s own limitations in subject awareness than anything else.
Professor Britton retorted: “I disagreed with everything he [Drakeford] said. If you see the second and third generation devices it’s very obvious that they aren’t smoking. The only normalizing taking place is that of using nicotine in a way that doesn’t involve smoking.”
It’s an opinion backed up by the latest findings from the annual U.K. research: “The Ash survey highlights that 2.6million have now used [vaping] as a way out—this is the only gateway,” concluded Britton.
And with his departure to go find some tea bags or a decent toothbrush the airwaves returned to unobstructed argument. Attila Danko, at the recent Global Forum for Nicotine, called for vaping advocates to be kind to public health officials. Lorien, going by her title of ‘waitress from Cornwall’ instead of representative of the New Nicotine Alliance, missed this pointer as she launched into Julie from Public Health Wales: “Do you understand how nicotine is absorbed?”
Backs put up, argument unresolved.
Dave Cross is a writer, biker, vaper, ever-more rotund punk and perpetual disappointment to his parents. According to his wife he is frequently wrong about most things.