The e-cig wars are heating up. Web forums on electronic cigarettes have grown nearly as excitable as sites about cycling. Lacking any medical evidence, the Daily Mail claimed earlier this year that e-cigs "can cause more harm than smoking" — after which the paper was obliged to print an apology.
Duplicating the pleasures of smoking without the inhalation of tobacco toxins, "vaping" (OK — a naff expression) is taking off. UK sales in the last year having multiplied by ten, e-cigs have the potential to overtake the smelly, cancerous version within a decade, in time making the traditional cigarette an anachronism. At natural history museums of the future, school children may gawk at glassed-off, realistically scurfy ashtrays, scattered with tenderly curated butts. So why isn't this great news?
Some governments are laissez-faire, while others are banning e-cigs outright, or proposing such stringent restrictions, as the EU has done, that the gizmos might as well be illegal. In this ambiguous regulatory environment, the "vaping" community has grown so anxious that numerous users are stockpiling supplies, like survivalists preparing for the end of the world.
Even if you've no interest in trying this supremely 21st-century invention, which direction your government heads in the e-cig wars is a good litmus test of whether you live in a truly free country.
For once, the UK has displayed admirable rationality and moderation. Classifying the e-cig as a non-prescription drug like aspirin as of 2016 still keeps it on offer in pharmacies and convenience stores, and I'm all for testing these things for purity. But British common sense could readily be trumped by EU alarmism.
Acting only on a prejudice against any habit that resembles smoking, several American states have banned e-cigs from public places — though the mechanisms emit only vapour and pose no risk of second-hand smoke. California is considering a measure that would allow landlords to forbid vaping, which is odourless, leaving no taint in furnishings and carpets. Brazil has banned the product. Egypt not only bans e-cigs, but will confiscate the kits of tourists at customs, though nearly half of Egyptian men smoke tobacco.