Vaping: a better way to quit
The Smoking Matters service in Dumfries and Galloway, in the south-west corner of Scotland, is reporting a sharp decline in the number of people requesting its help. According to a report on BBC News, 'the service helped 102 people in deprived areas kick the habit in the past year - 251 below target'. Across Scotland, the number of attempts to stop smoking has fallen by 13 per cent compared with 2012.
The reason? People are turning to e-cigs as a way of cutting down or quitting rather than face the rigmarole of dealing with the NHS. And as countless stories of hardcore smokers giving up prove, offering people the chance to use some that is quite like a cigarette - with the nicotine, the pleasing vapour to exhale and all the rest - is a much better alternative than patches, gums and 'think of the children' lectures. And you can get fantastically geeky about the various batteries, liquids and other kit if that takes your fancy.
The trouble with all this is that it really runs counter to two things: the authoritarian impulses of many people in the public health 'community' and the precautionary instincts of many lawmakers and businesses. Many in the public health crowd are simply opposed to the enjoyment of nicotine (and many other mild and enjoyable drugs, for that matter), full stop. They describe those of us who enjoy nicotine as 'addicts' who must be protected, by force of law, from themselves.
For lawmakers, already obsessed with restricting tobacco, anything that might 'renormalise' puffing on something, even something that is clearly not a cigarette, is too risky. For companies, rather at a loss as to what to do, the safest thing is to ban everything, even though e-cigs clearly offer no danger to people nearby and little or no danger to the users themselves. In July, for example, Southern Railways became the latest rail company to ban e-cigs.
For some public health campaigners, nothing short of a teetotal, smoke-free, five-a-day life of salad and porridge will suffice in their efforts to save our souls. We will just have to fight their efforts to control our lives - there's little hope of persuasion in the face of their obsessive and arrogant puritanism. But politicians and businesses can, hopefully, be persuaded to allow us a bit more liberty to decide how we live.
Those who want to smoke should be allowed to smoke in peace. Those who decide they prefer e-cigs - for health, convenience or any other reason - should be allowed to get on with it without interference. Then maybe we could all stop spending money on stop smoking services and get on with enjoying our 'bad habits'.