E-cigarettes should not be allowed on buses

No Vaping Sign, 6/2015, Starplex Cinema, by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTubeI have sometimes found the debate on e-cigarettes a little puzzling. Some experts argue that they are probably not completely safe, and therefore that they should not be allowed, or at least that they should only be allowed on prescription, or from chemists. If e-cigarettes were a completely new, stand-alone activity that had been invented, there might be such an argument. However, the debate is completely changed and distorted out of all proportion by the fact that e-cigarettes are, in the vast majority of cases, used as an alternative to a highly dangerous and addictive product: the conventional tobacco cigarette. The latter is a product that would certainly not be legal if it were invented today, but for unfortunate historical and societal reasons, we are stuck with it for the time being as governments around the world put in a huge amount of effort to persuade people not to use it. Anything that can be used as an alternative that helps people to give up smoking must be welcomed. Even if it is not entirely safe, vaping is clearly much, much less harmful than smoking. If must therefore not be seen as a stand-alone product, but rather in the context of tobacco smoking, and should be at least as easy to obtain and use. Even if a small number of people start to use e-cigarettes who did not previously smoke, I would say that’s a small price worth paying for the health benefits enjoyed by others who give up smoking, and chances are, many of that small minority of non-smokers taking it up might instead have been tempted to start smoking if e-cigarettes were not available.

I therefore cautiously welcome the general thrust of a report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which argues that more use should be made of e-cigarettes as a tool to reduce the number of people smoking. However, the BBC News homepage had the slightly sensationalised headline, “Vaping on buses ‘should be considered'”. The actual article has a more sensible title and makes it clear that the MPs call for “a debate on vaping in public spaces, such as on public transport and in offices”, but I find this suggestion a cause for concern. Some news outlets have suggested a change in the law to allow vaping in indoors public spaces, but in fact it is not covered by the smoking ban as it does not constitute smoking. Vaping is generally not allowed on public transport, in workplaces or entertainment venues because the owners of those buildings and vehicles choose to prohibit it, just as they did for smoking for many years before it was banned by law.

While I am quite clear that vaping should be a widely available alternative to smoking even though there is probably a small health risk associated with it, that does not extend to allowing people using e-cigarettes to expose other members of the public to their vapour. The effects of vaping, first- or second-hand, have not been studied in any depth. There is absolutely no reason why a member of the public who chooses to live a clean life and has no wish to smoke or vape should be subjected to either while going about his or her business in public. No-one likes the idea of the “nanny state” where government tells people what to do, but it is sometimes necessary when behaviour causes a burden on the state, such as smoking on the NHS. However, where the government does need to act in a civil society is to protect its citizens from the actions of others. By all means allow people to make choices that may harm their health, within reason; but the wishes of those who do not wish to do so needs to take priority where there is a conflict of interest.

I can see no reason for allowing e-cigarettes to be used in places where smoking is currently prohibited. As long as e-cigarettes are as widely available and convenient to use as conventional cigarettes, surely that’s good enough? While it’s nowhere near as unpleasant as cigarette smoke, vapour in public places still invades others’ personal space; being enveloped in a cloud of vapour can be a strange experience. Sometimes it can have a fruity or perfumed smell, but some people choose to use products that give a smell similar to tobacco smoke, which is quite unpleasant. As I pointed out earlier, smoking would never be allowed if it was discovered today, and nor would smoking in public, yet it took governments many decades to have the courage to ban the latter to a limited extent. The last thing they should consider now is to allow another form of antisocial activity to become entrenched in public, which would then have to be similarly addressed in 10 or 20 years’ time. It would be much more sensible to retain restrictions on where e-cigarettes can be used – which are currently largely voluntary and self-policed; already part of the norms of society – rather than to allow an activity to become normalised in public, and therefore difficult to reverse in the future.

If it is really considered necessary to make vaping more convenient in terms of where it is permitted in order to persuade more smokers to switch, I have a suggestion. It’s about time the current laws on smoking in public places were reviewed. It is still unacceptable to have to breathe in others’ smoke while walking down the street, entering a building or waiting at a bus stop. Instead of increasing the number of places people are allowed to vape, why not restrict where they can smoke? Vapour is less unpleasant and less likely to trigger someone’s asthma as they walk along the street, or get into office air conditioning units as smokers congregate outside. A purely indoor ban on vaping is sufficient to protect others. On the other hand, smoking could be much more heavily restricted to remove the last remaining pockets of unpleasantness that non-smokers – including ex-smokers keen not to re-start – have to face daily. Make the office smoking point vaping-only, and tell people to leave their cigarettes at home.

One response to “E-cigarettes should not be allowed on buses”

  1. Matt Bonnett

    My work colleague informed me a while ago that he stopped vaping in his new BMW because it was making his leather seats sticky…

    He used to vape in his old office and you could always smell it, we banned him from doing it when he moved into ours!

    Agree it is much better than tobacco smoke but still has an effect on those nearby who didn’t choose to participate.

    Given that the nicotine addiction is the main issue for users, I would say the nicotine patches that people wear on their skin are a complete win-win as they have zero effect on anyone bar the person wearing them.

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