It all began with gum and skin patches in the early 1990s – ways of getting nicotine into the bloodstream without the need for a cigarette.
But it wasn't about to stop there for the smoking-cessation revolution. No, leading brand Nicorette would soon devise the lozenge, the quick mist, the micro tab, the nasal spray and, of course, those little white "vaporisers" that resemble a tampon stuck in your mouth. But sadly, none of those nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) could emulate the "cool", blue-hazed image of the real thing. You'd never have caught James Dean wearing a Nicotinell patch, now, would you?
By 1996, NRTs were available over the counter, and, come 2003, the Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik designed an uncanny electronic double of a snout that allowed users to get their fix without filling their lungs with clouds of smoke. Instead, they'd inhale nicotine-filled water vapour to their lungs' content, the only things cut out being the tar – and no one liked that part anyway – and the exhaled smoke.
The e-cigarette could not have come at a better time. Within four years, smoking had been made illegal in enclosed places across the UK, legislation that continues to be taken up across the world, most recently in Saudi Arabia just a few weeks ago.
But while e-ciggies are odour- and tobacco-free, nowadays it is the very idea of smoking that is frowned upon, so non-smokers have not lost the opportunity to look down their noses at public e-puffers.
Not that that will stop the converts: celebs from Kate Moss to Ronnie Wood have been papped recently with plastic Pall Malls hanging out of their mouths, and this year, the number of e-cigarette "smokers" in the UK is set to top one million for the first time.
But those who want to give them a go should be warned: research shows those trying to quit with any kind of aid are twice as likely to relapse. So is the NRT industry nothing more than smoke and mirrors? Possibly, but what's sure is that the best way to stop smoking is also the cheapest: cold turkey.
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