Up in smoke: Can e-cigarettes really help you kick the habit?

As the Government considers allowing e-cigarettes to become prescribed on the NHS, expert smoker turned quitter, Sam Masters, tries them out

Nigel, you don’t know what you’ve done.

It was after watching you, ciggie and pint in hand, that I did the thing I least wanted to do in the world and gave up smoking. All those hours spent in copses, bird sanctuaries and bus shelters puffing away as a teenager, honing my technique, practising taking a draw like John Travolta, were wasted. And Nigel Farage, it is your fault – your teeth and leathery skin were too much. Smoking had never looked less cool than it did when you did it.

And so it was time to quit, for good this time. Perhaps easier said than done, twice before I have given up giving up after a year off the tabs. Both relapses came after running the London marathon, when the offer of a gasper at the finish line proved irresistible. Subsequent minor attempts to quit have seen my natural inclination to be unpleasant amplified to the point where my family and friends turned enablers and bought me tobacco.

So like some 1.3million other Britons I turned to the e-cigarette. It was no small move because I was the Professor Emeritus of Smoking. From my first pack - unfiltered Gitanes stolen from a friend’s dad – to my last staple of American Spirit tobacco, smoking was the one arena in which I excelled.

I could roll, light and smoke a cigarette with as much skill and dexterity as Lionel Messi displays kicking a ball, like an orchestra conductor with a smelly baton.

But this week, in an attempt scientific research, a purchase is made of the most expensive e-ciggies possible. They’re called nicolites: “No tar - No tobacco - Real smoking satisfaction.” Soon they will either regulated as medicines – and could prescribed by GPs – or banned as Government regulations become stricter by 2016.

Sadly, my first choice shop Boots do not sell them. A lovely woman behind the counter offers a plethora of give-up tools including nicotine patches and gum (and even a course where I could have an AA–style “sponsor”) but crucially not what is required. “We don’t do them yet, dear,” she says. “Good luck mind.”

A spokeswoman for Boots later issues the following statement: “Whilst we do not currently stock electronic cigarettes we will carefully assess their benefits in the future as a potential element of our offer.”

So it’s to Superdrug, Boots’s gutter snipe cousin next to a Poundland in a soul crushing west London shopping centre. After what felt like three days wandering aimlessly up and down the aisles searching for the non-smoking, smoking section, it is finally time to ask for help. The bloke behind the counter – shifty and slightly sweaty  - points to the e-cigarettes next to the chocolate bars and chewing gum. “Not sure you really want those,” he says. “You’d be better off with the gum.”

But I do want them and force a fiver into his palm. “You 21?” he asks (I am exactly a decade beyond that and look it). So in addition to the inconvenience of going to Superdrug, which because I’m a snob I already don’t like, it turns out you have to look as old as Norman Lamont to buy them. Maybe that’s part of the point: Half the fun of smoking when I was younger was the adrenaline rush of wondering whether I could look old enough to “get served”. So I give them a try.

These look like the kind of substitute fags William Shatner might puff on the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise. They even come with a memory stick, though it is difficult to understand what this is used for. Perhaps to download smoking data which could then be obtained under some PRISM style spy network.

Actually, after consultation with technically-minded people it turns out the memory stick is much more banal and equally alien. It allows the lithium-Ion battery (the long white section) within the fag to be recharged. But that’s all the housework required, which is where the problems start for the e-ciggy.

Smokers like the ritual of smoking. Those, like me, that rolled their own tabs, took as much pleasure from the anticipation as the action. But the e-cigarette is cold and inert. And it’s yet another thing that requires batteries which I find deeply irritating to have to accept.

But I persevere, and start puffing the e-cigarette which vapourises liquid nicotine in users’ mouths. When breathed out a “satisfying” plume of water vapour is emitted. One e-ciggy is around the equivalent of 40 real cigarettes, the product makers boast. 

There is a spot outside the offices of the Independent, just off High Street Kensington, where smokers from all the newspapers gather. It’s like a herd of twitching antelope dressed at Debenhams.

I try joining in as usual with the e-cigarette but within seconds feel an outsider. No longer am I living dangerously, on the edge of society like James Dean. Now, while everyone else is packing live ammunition, I have blanks.

And rightly so.  Smoking is supposed to be cool – never more so than Sean Connery in Dr No – but there are just so many things about the e-cigarette which are not cool.

Perhaps chief among these is the ridiculous red light at the end which glows every time you take a puff. This is frankly embarrassing, and I’ve taken to cupping my fake tab like a schoolboy round the back of the bike sheds. Yes, you can smoke indoors and that is quite fun. Imagine the joy you’ll bring to your co-workers by blowing imitation smoke – made by vapourising liquid nicotine – through your nostrils like a dragon. But without the smell of tobacco burning, there’s really little point.

So, in short you’ll be slightly richer and, according to e-cigarette manufacturers, healthier. And you probably won’t look like Nigel Farage.

But does it take away the misery of giving up? No. In fact it may even prolong it as effectively you are replacing one addiction for another. 

But I’m not back on the fags – yet. Frankly, I’m waiting for the e-pipe.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Getty
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Manager - Business Support Transformation, 1 year contract

£550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Walthamstow...

Head Of Development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This excitin...

PHP Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: PHP Developer...

MIDDLE EAST CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy based in Be...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor