I confess. I have a vice. I should have a dunce's hat placed on my head and be paraded in public before a jeering crowd of the righteous and worthy. I have battled my demons and failed. I am a smoker.
There now, I have admitted it. I am addicted to nicotine. By some twist of fate, be it genetic or just plain choice; I seem to have been afflicted with a brain whose centres of pleasure respond to a chemical that until recently could only be found, amongst thousands of others, within the leaf of a tobacco plant grown in some exotic climate. Sure over the past 40 odd years there have been times, often quite lengthy, when I have managed to go without. But even in those lengthy droughts there remained a lingering thirst for that unrequited, unexplainable hit. And so I would gradually succumb to one cigarette every now and then which would lead to two and then I would be back to smoking daily and be filled with that self-loathing that every addict feels when they acknowledge that they are weaker than their addiction.
And then, out of seemingly nowhere, came an entirely novel way of gratifying my needs. The e- cigarette. The concept and execution were so simple that I wondered how no one had come up with it years ago. Unlike other nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) here was something that so totally mimicked the entire smoking experience that it was like comparing a BMW with a Morris Minor. Not only that, it was a BMW that was actually cheaper to buy and run than a Morris! My mind may be weak but it is logical. I switched nicotine delivery systems from an expensive, smelly, carcinogenic one to another with none of these faults. And as a by-product, a cough, which had been niggling away for years, disappeared.
Am I a better person for smoking e-cigarettes? Of course not. However I am a happier one. I may even be slightly easier to live with. I am no longer consumed by self-loathing for my weakness of will. I puff away at home and abroad. However I never got back into the routine of smoking in restaurants, pubs, workplace or parties. In fact I tend not to vape in those environments where I never used to smoke anyway. Not because I am unduly concerned about the health risks I pose to those around me. That is obviously infinitesimally small ( I won't go into the scientific arguments why that is so) but because I just feel uncomfortable simulating smoking in those place where I had long since stopped smoking.
However that caveat does not apply to 'vaping' in areas where I know that it cannot offend others than those who are determined to be offended. I cannot see an argument for preventing vaping in open spaces, train station platforms, parks and beaches. It's not even as if e-cigarettes actually produce e-butts to litter the pavements.
Which brings me to the pressure that is being brought on to vaping by the WHO and our own Chief Medical officer amongst others. People need an outlet in their lives. A way of letting off steam. The manner in which they choose to do this varies hugely. Some have a genuine impact on society and we rightly revolt against them. However others have been part of the morally accepted fabric of society for generations. We bemoan the rise of fundamentalism of every creed and yet we are increasingly moving towards a trend for medical/health fundamentalism. We need to be more flexible, to be able to compromise.
The arguments against vaping are at present both spurious and hypocritical. They are as substantive as those regarding brain tumours from smart phones. Those making them should admit that the only offence it causes is that to their own sensitivities. So for once let us resist the temptation to interfere in what is a seemingly harmless activity whose only crime is that it looks awfully like another more harmful one. Let us trust the individual on this. Instead of anticipating harm in a totally un-scientific way based on no evidence, let us wait for such evidence to be produced and then let us democratically and rationally assess the risk before defining what is in the best interests of society.
As every action has a reaction so every pleasure has its drawback but society cannot progress if we adopt an amateurish health and safety ethos to every innovation that arises. We need to get away from this reflex "we can't" attitude to a more embracing "why can't we?"