Natalie Haynes: Electronic cigarettes: not dangerous – merely preposterous


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I don't travel by coach very often these days, because I no longer spend my life on tour. And also because their time-stretching abilities make me nervous: how is it possible to spend 17½ hours going from Glasgow to London? Is it going via Brigadoon? Wouldn't it just be quicker to pack up my belongings in a handkerchief, tie them to a stick and walk? Say, I might become mayor.

But if I were on a bus and I saw unexplained vapour arising from someone's bag, I'm not sure I would have called the police to report a possible crime. I think I would simply have assumed that my fellow passengers required chemical assistance to survive the time-and-space-defying proportions of the journey.

And as it turned out, the passengers on the Megabus which closed the M6 toll road for four hours this week would have been way out of luck if someone had planned to vaporise them. (Even writing this makes me think that the only potential guilty parties are Lex Luthor or the Penguin.) They were left on the bus, on a deserted motorway, fondly believing they had stopped because there was a crash ahead, for 90 minutes. By which time, I would have thought, even Wile E Coyote's Vapormatic Birdicide would probably have done its work.

It was an easy mistake for someone to make, though, given how weird electronic cigarettes are. I understand the theoretical appeal: you get a quasi-cigarette hit, and it's legal (if apparently alarming) to smoke them indoors. Since this summer would have tested the patience of Noah, I can see how that would have its advantages.

Given how hard the manufacturers push them – there was a period when you could barely enter Euston station without passing some loon holding a plastic stick in one hand and a plastic smile on their face, as though standing in the street pretending to smoke wasn't a mortifying development in their personal life plan – I think the reason they haven't taken off is that they look rather silly.

Even the phrase "electronic cigarette" is intrinsically preposterous, like it's hopped from the pages of a cheap sci-fi novel from the 1950s. And if we're going to use something from that genre, I'm holding out for a jetpack: London to Glasgow, eight minutes.

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