SMOKING is bad for you.
That’s the general consensus. We don’t need to tell you that.
Britain’s health ministry have long drummed images of blackened lungs, blocked arteries and retrospective cancer sufferers into our heads. They covered packaging with morose messages of pending death, banned all advertising, hid cigarettes under shop counters and banished recalcitrant smokers outside.
Before the UK’s 2007 smoking ban, I never truly understood the real grip of a smoking addiction until I witnessed a man battle with gale-force winds, rain and his umbrella just to have his cigarette.
The anti-smoking message has been well and truly received by the masses and it’s been a delightful six years of fresher air for non–smokers.
It has to be asked what smoking trend is to come next? An e-blunt with liquid marijuana?
Like many bad habits though, especially ones you’d really like to carry on with, the ‘lesser than two evils’ alternatives are often created to wean off the pretty ferociously hooked. Like fat-free ice cream and Diet Coke.
In this case, tobacco companies have introduced smoking phenomenon, e-cigarettes.
'Did you know that if every smoker in the UK switched over to electronic cigarettes around 5million lives would be saved each year' exclaims the poster for The Electronic Cigarette Store, here in Manchester. One of the increasingly appearing e-cigarette stores in the country.
It's an attractive message that 3.2 million ex-smokers and smokers have chosen not to ignore.
E-cigarettes allow smokers to indulge their nicotine fix without the tobacco, carcinogens, arsinic and so on. More so, it solves the quitters' plight of needing something to do with their hands.
Sounds too good to be true, but as it currently stands, e-cigarettes do just that.
Developed in China in 2003, the traditional little white sticks have been replaced with battery powered ‘vapourisers’ that contain liquid nicotine. You can inhale and exhale just as if you were smoking. Instead you are 'vaping' and a smoke-like water based cloud is released .
Available as cigarette look-a-likes that glow at the tip or as space-age looking refillble cylinders, the e-ciggies are fastly being hailed as better and safer than the real thing.
The benefits of e-ciggs keep on coming, it seems.
"To quit a nicotine addiction takes will power, to change to e-cigarettes does not." says Jeremy Simson, owner of The Electronic Cigarette Store.
"There is at last a safer alternative to smoking, which in the vast majority of cases results in complete cessation of smoking with no withdrawal symptoms."
Along with none of the nasty toxins, there’s no need for a lighter, there’s also no cigarette butts, passive smoking and Jeremy claims that a 20-a-day smoker could save up to £2,250 a year.
Apparently this is the future for smokers. Stealthy, healthy and far more wealthy.
Just as CD’s replaced records, the Kindle is to replace books and e-mail replaced letter writing, e-cigarettes are set to replace Malboro and Lambert & Butler.
So does everybody win? The smokers, the non-smokers, the Government and the tobacco companies, who set to make big money off the e-cigarettes' growing popularity?
It seemed that way until Wednesday 12 June 2013.
E-cigarette manufacturers will now be subject to strict licensing which they will have to meet by 2016.
The Government decided that e-cigarettes will be classed as a medicinal drug just as nicotine gum, patches and mouth sprays. The e-cigarettes that meet the new standards set by the NHS will be available to be prescribed by doctors. With a new EU tobacco law on its way, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency are also banning the flavoured vapours and any products that are marketed to under-16s.
The Electronic Cigarette Store are pleased that legislation will improve the quality of products on the market, but worry "overly zealous regulation" may restrict the availability of e-cigs to consumers.
Not all are so accepting and manufacturers believe the new legislation will affect the promising multi-million pound industry.
Brands such as UK based Totally Wicked would rather not market e-cigarettes as a quitting agent, but as way for people to smoke nicotine, a legal drug, recreationally.
The Government’s puritanical stance on smoking, and now vaping, may for some seem a little rigid. After all when it comes to cigarettes, nicotine is what gets you hooked, but it isn’t the killer. Vaping is less harmful than cigarettes and with the old fags still sold on shelves, is it fair that the e-products face so many restrictions?
Until new laws come in to effect, the unlicensed and unregulated e-cigarettes are still sold in newsagents, garages and online stores.
Chris Love, Senior Manager, Stop Smoking Manchester, shared the organisations concern for the e-cigs.
She said: "Right now, we know very little about where and how some e-cigarettes are being manufactured. There haven’t been extensive tests on the chemicals used in these vapours and besides the nicotine, we really don’t understand the long term effects of what people are inhaling.
"Until we have the full picture from health authorities, we will continue to encourage people to quit cigarettes and nicotine altogether."
Without government guidance, it’s been left up to Britain’s businesses to decide what the correct e-smoking cigarette etiquette is too.
Steadily, cautiously and a little sheepishly, people are ‘lighting up’ their e-ciggies in previously banned places and it feels as though smoking culture is creeping back into our offices, bars, restaurants and homes.
Chris, a former smoker, believes that e-cigarettes are potentially undermining Britain’s successful anti-smoking campaigns.
He said: "We are at risk of chipping away at what they have built. The rates of people smoking have gone right down and it is has been continuingly going in the right direction. We want people not to smoke at all and be free of nicotine. So we hope e-cigarettes don’t slow down the quitting progress."
Yet the stigma of smoking may very well be gradually dissipating.
The ’vaping’ concept has now been caught on by shisha companies also. The popular middle-eastern social pastime, that you can see in cafés across Manchester’s ‘Curry Mile’ in Rusholme, are considered just as harmful as cigarettes. In fact, don’t be misled by the beautiful water filled pipe and fruity aromas, in one hour with a Shisha or hookah pipe you may have well have smoked over 100 cigarettes.
Shisha pens or ‘e-shisha’ are now the alternative.
The shisha pens' biggest selling point is that unlike e-cigarettes there’s no nicotine and it’s not said whether they will be subject to the same strict regulations as e-cigarettes now face.
A further plus is the pens are more conveniently sized - as you can’t exactly drag a full sized shisha pipe around with you.
Just like shisha, the pens come in a candy shop array of tasty flavours and from first look, they look a lot more like felt tips pens.
Nonetheless the trendsters have caught on and Instagram is filled with girls giving sexy face in a cloud of thick vapour.
What’s interesting is the amount of non-smokers that are puffing away.
Manchester based shisha pen company, L’Dor, owned by footballer, Stephen Ireland, is becoming increasingly popular and his pens have been endorsed by celebrities and footballers, including the likes of Mario Balotelli and Yaya Touré, who have been given special 24 carat Gold engraved editions, that would set you back around £150.
This I find peculiar, as while footballers are seen as many types of people, smokers they are definitely not.
Question is, why would someone like me, a non-smoker, want to try these too?
As a child I would buy a packet of white candy sticks and pretend to smoke with my friends on a particularly icy day when our breath resembled smoke. The allure of cigarettes was that they were grown up, forbidden to us and, what ‘posh ladies’ did.
Even now, the old clichéd writer archetype, a la Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, smoking a cigarette whilst writing an article is enticing to me. Although the dangers of smoking put me off, the curiosity never really left me.
So yes, at this very instance I am puffing on one of L'Dor e-shisha pens, fulfilling my Carrie Bradshaw writer fantasy, blowing vapour, pinky finger in air. I have a pack of five sleek black pens, in an equally sleek, white ‘cigarette box’ packaging. There are five flavours, vanilla, strawberry, apple, pineapple and menthol and they taste very similar to shisha, even giving a familiar burn on the lips and warm sensation at the back of the throat.
They smell great, they taste great and as I sit engulfed in the fragrant vapours, it’s safe to say I’m enjoying the smoking experience a little too much.
Each pen allows around 500 puffs in total. Taking to the pens a tad enthusiastically, I probably inhaled approximately 2000 in one evening, leaving me a little light headed and headachy.
Still, I’m almost sold. Almost.
My enthusiasm aside, e-smoking isn’t something I dare do in public. As self righteous as it sounds, I personally don’t want to look like a smoker. Puffing on the e-shisha pens has already gained some unwitting looks of disapproval from my smoke-free-and-proud family. There’s also something quite juvenile about pretending to smoke, with no nicotine fix to feed. It does seem rather pointless.
Even so if e-shisha can appeal to me, they are likely to appeal to other non-smokers and, some-what worryingly, children also.
L'Dor clearly state on their website and packaging that they don’t sell to under 18s and the vapours are responsibly marketed with a more adult design, unlike the majority of other e-shisha companies, who choose to package pens in Crayola bright rainbow colours that will undoubtedly appeal to children.
Yet we’re reassured by the manufacturers they are safe, so should consumers and parents worry? I am not entirely convinced. Call me a hypochondriac, but is it ever entirely safe to purposely inhale an artificial substance into your lungs?
Just like adding sweeteners to turn water into flavoured water, whilst artificial colourings may not cause any short or long-term damage, nothing will beat and be as healthy as plain old water. So when considering a choice between good old oxygen, liquid nicotine and ‘vaping’, you should always, ideally, just stick with the former.
Again, this something I don’t need to tell you.
Cold turkey quitting understandably isn’t the most feasible option for the current smokers, struggling and/or clinging on to their habit.
Jeremy believes e-cigarettes are the way, stating that 95 per cent of his clients have not returned to their earlier habit. Chris Love also told me of heavy smokers' improved health once switched to e-cigarettes - a major positive of the e-cigarettes welcomed across the board.
The jury isn’t necessarily out, but it will be interesting to see how e-cigarettes will affect the expensive anti-smoking campaign Britain's government has tried to enforce.
It has to be asked what smoking trend is to come next? An e-blunt with liquid marijuana?
I’m betting on Amsterdam.
L'Dor E-Shisha pens come in at a price of £39.99 for a pack of five, or if you’re feeling luxurious, £150 for the gold edition.
The Electronic Cigarette Store is based in Barton Arcade, Deansgate, Manchester.
Visit Stop Smoking Manchester for more information on ways to quit.
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