The 'dual' in The Crown
There has been much talk in recent weeks of how effective e-cigs have been in helping people to quit smoking. Cigarettes can be a hard habit to break and, in the past, the options for smokers wanting to quit have been limited and ineffective: nicotine replacement therapies like inhalators, patches and gum, drugs with unpleasant side-effects like Champix, or just good old-fashioned willpower. Smokers who are really determined to succeed generally do so. The Office for National Statistics reports that in 2013, 54 per cent of people who had at one time smoked were now ex-smokers. But stopping a decades-old habit is often difficult, especially when it is one you enjoy.
E-cigs do seem to have been very beneficial in helping people quit. Over a million ex-smokers in the UK use them. It is clearly very good news for those people who want to quit that there is now something that gives much of the pleasure and 'ritual' of smoking but with far lower health risks. All of this is no thanks to health authorities and campaigners, who at first largely scaremongered about vaping rather than supporting it and have helped to make it harder to enjoy e-cigs as a result.
But there is another group that uses e-cigs that aren't getting a mention in this success story, even though they are the biggest users of e-cigs: the 'dual users' - the people who use both tobacco cigarettes and e-cigs. Some of these people are using e-cigs to cut down, but many more are taking advantage of the fact that e-cigs are not legally banned in pubs and workplaces to carry on enjoying nicotine when they can't light up.
Dual users are awkward for both sides of the debate. For public-health authorities and activists, they are the recalcitrant resistance to demands that they quit. For some vapers, they undermine the special-pleading narrative that demands the authorities support e-cigs to help people quit. All too often, vapers will remain silent on the issue of smoking because they have decided that they must distance themselves from anything to do with tobacco. Given the repressive tactics of anti-smoking campaigners, that's in many ways understandable, if short-sighted.
So despite the fact that dual users are the most common group of e-cig users, no one seems to be standing up for them. E-cigs are a passable substitute for tobacco smoking for many people, but for many more, an e-cig is not as good as the 'real thing' or maybe the latest models that are a good substitute are just too damn fiddly.
We believe that choice is the key. No one thinks tobacco cigarettes are a health product, far from it. No one is under any illusion about the potential risks of smoking (although there may be an overestimation of those risks). But the decision about whether to smoke, to vape or to do a bit of both should be left to the individual.
That choice is endlessly under attack from bans, swingeing taxes and efforts to 'denormalise' smoking through display bans and grotesque health warnings on 'plain' packs. As a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrates, even the right to smoke in your own home is under attack, with US public-housing tenants increasingly told that smoking is a breach of their tenancy agreements.
Almost uniquely, Action on Consumer Choice defends the rights of smokers and vapers - and particularly the right to do both. It is simply not the business of prohibitionists and officials to tell us how to live our lives, even if we choose to make the 'wrong' choices. Why shouldn't someone enjoy tobacco and e-cigs without being threatened with prosecution or eviction, or impoverished by astonishingly high taxes?
This is a basic issue of personal freedom and we should give no quarter to those who want to take that freedom away.