As some of you know, I am currently in the sunny land of Australia. Home of beautiful beaches, exotic wildlife and stunning scenery. Australia has been an amazing experience. It is very tempting to stay here forever. There are, however, some pretty big differences between here and my native homeland of the UK. Whilst some are very positive (free swimming anyone?) others are more disconcerting. The one that has really struck me is Australia’s approach to smokers, and particularly to e cigarettes.
E cigarettes that contain nicotine are apparently illegal in Australia.
I have a confession to make here folks. I was a smoker. A dirty nicotine fuelled smoker. I smoked cigarettes for quite a long time before I switched to e cigarettes. While I understand the controversy and negative feelings towards any form of smoking, I personally am a big believer in the mighty e cigarette.
I don’t know what it’s like in America, but e cigarettes have taken England by storm. They are still relatively new. They became mainstream about four years ago, but already they are taking over the nicotine industry. You will see people smoking them everywhere on the streets of London, and you will often see more people smoking e cigarettes than real cigarettes.
The e cigarettes come in almost every flavour, shape and strength you can imagine. Though you can get nicotine free liquids and cartridges, specially designed for those that are quitting nicotine altogether, the general idea is that they do contain nicotine. They are often seen as a safer alternative to smoking, an alternative that gives you the feeling of smoking without exposing you to the smoke, tar and other baddies that are in regular cigarettes.
They probably aren’t totally safe. As they are still relatively new, we won’t know about their long term effects on health for some time, if at all.
This leaves smokers with a choice: Do you choose the thing that you know (without a doubt) may kill you and will probably give you some serious health problems, or do you choose the thing that is said to be safer, that logically should be safer, that feels safer.
Let me tell you, from personal experience the e cigarette definitely feels safer. Your lungs feel better, your health improves, your ability to walk up stairs and hills increases. I have a friend who had liquid in his lungs and had such bad problems he physically couldn’t smoke anymore. He smoked an e cigarette for a while and the doctors said his condition had improved. I have friends with bad asthma who say they feel fine with e cigarettes. I’ve been asked by doctors if I smoked, I said I smoked e cigarettes, and they said it was totally fine. Obviously it would be ideal if we could all chew some gum or pop some nicotine mints and get over it altogether. Obviously that’s what anyone would advise. But if you can’t, or if you won’t, give up the sensation of smoking then shouldn’t you have the choice to try another alternative?
Not in Australia apparently. Smoking isn’t as big here as it is in the UK, so the need for e cigarettes wouldn’t be as great and you barely see them at all.
A few days ago I thought I had found some, and I went into the shop to ask about it. The guy told me about the flavours and said they were all nicotine free. Out of curiosity I asked where the ones with nicotine were. The guy looked at me like I had asked him for crack.
Seriously. He looked at me in horror and then said quietly that it was illegal. I said they were legal in the UK, and he gave me a withering look and said he was sure they were illegal.
This confused me a bit. In a country with such an aggressive anti-smoking approach as Australia, surely they would welcome an alternative. If cigarettes are legal, despite the fact that we know how dangerous they are, how could e cigarettes be illegal when their harms haven’t even been confirmed yet? And whilst nicotine is addictive, it in itself isn’t the harmful thing that can kill you in either cigarettes or e cigarettes. If it’s a health issue why have any e cigarettes at all, rather than just those which don’t contain nicotine, which is kind of the point of them in the first place.
I know a lot of people are dubious about e cigarettes, and maybe they are right. Maybe healthy smoking is a pipe dream. However, I have not found a single study that says e cigarettes are more harmful than regular cigarettes, and I doubt I ever will.
Are they likely to have risks? Yes.
More than cigarettes? No.
Surely even a bit less bad for you, 95% less harmful is still the consensus with a lot of health professionals, surely even a bit less harmful is better. We should be welcoming the possibility of safer smoking rather than trying to ban it and doom smokers to their nasty end. We should be optimistic about the possibility that these things could save lives than shut them down. Until we ban cigarettes, and of course we never could, shouldn’t the e cigarette be freed as well?