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Whilst walking down the street, puffing on my e-cig, a tiny little human who could have been no more than 3, said "I think I can smoke". Dumbfounded, and searching for a parent who appeared to be walking 100 yards to the right of said child, I said "no, smoking is bad, no one should do it" (quickly concealing my smoking implement under the sleeve of my jacket).
This is not the first time I have had a rather small child look at me in ore, eyeing up the piece of tech with shiny lights, which magically omits smoke hanging from my lips. The little lady continued: "but adults can do it", and I said "we can but we shouldn't". She then replied "but then why do you", and at this point her mother finally noticed she was talking to a complete stranger and called her over to which she replied "I am fine, I am learning about smoking". Brilliant, I am now the Nicotine Pied Piper. As she departed I tried desperately to redeem myself and shouted "it is naughty, don't do it, say no". As if I was speaking to an 11 year old. Flummoxed.
I had a similar experience when smoking real cigarettes, when a girl around 13 or 14 asked me for one. I said "you are too young to smoke", and she came back with the best reply: "oh so it's good for me when I get to your age then?" - schooled.
All this got me to thinking. The e-cig has sky-rocketed in popularity - cool looking vape-shops now litter most high streets. It is like the time before we knew how bad cigs were for us, glitzy advertising, alluring packaging, a variety of delicious flavours - all of which appeal to the rebellious teen (or apparently infant!).
It is undoubtable that the contraptions have been a quitting aid to many that have tried and failed multiple times over the years. Patches, pills, potions galore - none have proven quite as effective as the e-cig. But they are still sustaining the addiction to nicotine. My personal reasoning is that it is a 'better addiction' because there are less chemicals, but we don't actually know if this is true yet. It took years and years for the fag floggers to admit they were causing cancer, and even longer for the government to act. I think we must ask ourselves, are we going through the same process again?
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Although the e-cig has helped many fag-ash Lils' improve their health (and odour), there is the flipside. Teens are seeing the e-cig as the new latest accessory. I have a 'case study' to draw upon here too. When my little brother was around 14, I caught him browsing what were then known as 'Sheesha Pens' on eBay. They were effectively the zero nicotine, fruit flavoured e-cig. As a then smoker, and someone who had grown up as an ardent anti-smoker after seeing what it had done to my parents, who had then succumbed to peer pressure (ironically as the smoking ban was brought in - I was fed up of being the one left with the handbags)... I went nuts. Assumed full bad cop sibling mode.
Calling out his full name I shouted "that is effectively smoking, you are NOT having one". Forgetting of course if someone said that to me at his age, I would go and buy five. Fast forward to two years later (so aged 16 - the age you are allowed to smoke, just not buy them), and he is using an e-cig, although he assured me it was zero nicotine. Mother allowed it as she thought, as we all do, 'it is better than real smoking'. He said he needed something when all his mates went out to the smoking shelter at college - understandable. But now, a further year down the line he is stealing mum's tobacco, and is smoking the real thing.
For adults e-cigs are a way to trick ourselves we have kicked one of the hardest habits. But in reality we have just transferred that addictive behaviour to something, of which the real repercussions are yet unknown. For kids, they are a gateway drug. Therefore we should not be allowing them to become a normalised part of our culture, and we should ensure we shame their usage around children as much as we do cigarettes.