VINNIE Jones advertises them on television, the director of Public Health England thinks they are mostly for the good, while the Welsh government wants to ban them at work. And someone reading this is probably toking on one of the damn things right now.
Whatever you think of them, you just can’t escape e-cigarettes.
This thought arose yesterday on the Number 1 bus. Usually I would have been cycling, but I’d walked to meet the daughter who was in town for a few hours. On the way back the bus was full of young people returning from school. They all crowded at the front of the single-decker bus, perhaps because there was no upper deck where they could hide or misbehave. At a guess they were 14 or 15 and smart in their uniforms.
One of the lads, the class clown by the looks of it, was doing something furtive with a cigarette, a quick drag here, hand cupped to hide his action, smoke exhaled in a whoosh, then passing the cigarette on to the next boy. That cigarette did the rounds, going from hand to hand, before disappearing from view.
I knew it couldn’t be a cigarette, an old-fashioned, tobacco-filled paper tube. The smell alone would have alerted the driver. But the actions were exactly the same as if they’d been circulating a roll-up behind the bicycle sheds. This was always the time-honoured location for illicit smoking and other actions too, or so tradition and cliché have it. To be honest I can’t ever remember going behind the bicycle sheds at my boys-only grammar school.
In the sixth form the loos were a favoured place for a sneaky drag – a tote on a cigarette, that is, not a quick change into unusually extravagant clothing. Smoking a fag in the cubicles wasn’t for me, oh no. This is for a rather ludicrous reason.
Teenagers often do things in the name of being different or attempting to stand out. That’s where the pipe came in, a curly item in the Sherlock Holmes mould. Smoking a pipe was briefly my thing. And once I took part in a group visit to the loos or the ‘bogs’ as we probably called them. I lit the pipe, had a puff while others sparked up their cigarettes. Then a teacher alert went out and I dropped the pipe into my blazer, where it smouldered and threatened to start a pocket fire. And me a prefect too.
At least that’s how this incident takes shape in my mind now. Sometimes it’s hard to know for sure what happened at the time and what you have embroidered in the telling over the years. But it’s there in the past in some form or other.
The pipe period didn’t last and that Hendrix-haired boy moved onto cigars for a year or two, and then quickly moved on to smoking nothing at all.
How splendid I must have looked with that pipe, all hair and smoke and hardly any room for a face. But I like the memory and can still smell the tobacco. Mostly I went for the aromatic ones, Clan or Holland House. You don’t see pipes much nowadays.
The kids on the bus made me wonder if sneaky vaping was the modern equivalent of sneaky smoking. The arguments still rumble about these supposedly safer cigarettes with their clouds of pretend smoke.
Vinnie Jones lends his tough-guy frown to promoting a certain brand of steam-powered cigarettes, although he’s not seen ‘vaping’ or inhaling the vapour with its nicotine droplets or whatever they are.
Will more teenagers take up these e-cigarettes thanks to Jones and his adverts? Maybe they will, but I guess that in the past they would have been smoking more harmful real cigarettes.
Public Health England reckons that “on the best estimates so far”, e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, although not without risk.
As for smoking a pipe when you are a teenager, that is not without the risk of making yourself appear a complete tit.
While on a cigarette theme, there was a lovely phrase from a lad on the TV programme Educating Cardiff last night. Young Corey is tiny, super-smart and loves rugby, even though he’s not much taller than the ball.
He is proud of his stature, saying that he takes after his dad – who is “five foot and a fag butt”.