Why smoking bans matter to vapers

Posted on October 26, 2015

At the launch last week of a new report by the Manifesto Club and Forest, Smoked Out: the hyper-regulation of smoking in outdoor public places, a discussion on the indoor smoking ban proved a reminder of why users of e-cigs should be fearful of any extension of smoking bans.

As a member of the audience pointed out, pubs have been banning vapers. This seems illogical as vaping is a way of enjoying nicotine legally indoors. But because of the way the smoking ban was implemented, criminalising not just smokers but anyone deemed to have permitted smoking, pubs have erred on the side of caution in banning vapers too.

From a distance vaping looks like smoking to the untrained eye. Permit vaping and bar staff would have to check everyone who wanted to vape just in case they were actually smoking. Similar thinking is behind the bans on vaping on public transport and other public areas, too. Of course this is mad from the point of view of encouraging people to switch from smoking to vaping, but such is the logic of our ban-happy governments and public-health lobbyists today.

The same sort of problems might occur with outdoor smoking bans, depending on how they are enacted. Bars and cafes might find it easier to ban vapers as well as smokers from outdoor areas rather than having to risk fines.

There's also the problem of the way the outdoor smoking ban proposals are being justified. Clearly, there's no basis for passive smoking being a risk to non-smokers in the open air (there was precious little basis for that idea in enclosed spaces). So councils like Brighton are claiming that outdoor bans are needed to protect children from seeing smoking behaviour. But since vaping looks quite like smoking, by the same dubious logic councils may want to ban vaping because children might see people vaping and want to take up smoking. Just because such thinking is stupid doesn't mean it won't drive extended bans.

Many vapers, as ex-smokers, are extremely sympathetic to smokers facing ever more restrictions. But some vapers want to distance themselves because they hope to avoid the bans and crackdowns that smokers have had to face. The trouble is that the sheer stupidity of anti-smoking laws is that even though many public health figures now make approving noises about e-cigs, vapers could still end up being collateral damage in the war on smoking.