Suzanne Harrington takes up vaping after being off cigarettes for over a decade but has to get to grips with the new etiquette that comes with it
How we love to over complicate things. First, there were cigarettes, which were smelly and killed half of everyone who used them. Then there were e-cigarettes, awkwardly named, but containing none of the stuff that kills you, like tar or arsenic. (Nicotine doesn’t kill you, otherwise, they wouldn’t be selling it over the counter in chemists to chew or slap on your upper arm).
Vaping exists because smokers missed, well, smoking, and so Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, invented vaping after his father died from smoking and Hon himself was hooked on ciggies. He then sold his vaping idea to Big Tobacco, who renormalised the idea of inhaling nicotine-laden clouds, and to date, there are around 2.8 million vapers in the UK and 134,000 in Ireland.
In 2015, the UK Department of Health declared vaping to be “95% safer” than smoking actual fags. It is perfectly commonplace therefore to see people puffing away on metal devices that look like small musical instruments, expelling dragon-sized clouds of delicious smelling vapour. You can’t help but tilt your nose as a cloud of strawberry walks by, or you are wafted by vanilla at a bus stop.
There has, of course, been controversy, with the World Health Organisation stating it’s better to give up via gum and patches rather than vaping, and Wales banning vaping entirely from public places, but we won’t know the true consequences of vaping – if any – for some time. It’s still too new.
And with anything new, we have to construct new etiquette. Enter Debrett’s the “recognised authority on etiquette”, to tell us how to do it. So, in the interests of this article, I have a go at vaping – although I packed in smoking 11 years ago after decades of Marlboros, I am assured that a few puffs of sweet smelling steam would not re-addict me. Reader, I inhaled.
“Vaping is utterly satisfying,” writes India Knight in her 2014 book In Your Prime. “It’s not ‘almost’ as satisfying as smoking – it is as satisfying. You get an identical hit to the back of the throat from a vape as you do from a smoke. As a friend put it, ‘ I can’t believe how old fashioned smoking seems now’.”
With vaping, Knight says, “If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll be in heaven. You can vape Jaffa Cakes. Vanilla custard. Liquorice Allsorts. Jelly Babies, cake.”
I have a sweet tooth; I have a go on green apple flavour, then vanilla, chocolate, watermelon. It’s really nice, so I don’t pursue it.
I vaped in a public place – outside a coffee shop, surrounded by cigarette smokers. The idea of vaping indoors seems inconceivable, given the connection my brain makes with actual smoking. Yet vaping smells lovely and doesn’t stick to your clothes or hair of give you second-degree cancer – so when others vape around me, I don’t mind, but when others smoke cigarettes around me I want to punch them in the head. What does Debrett’s say about this?
“Civilised vaping is dependent on good manners, from vapers and non-vapers alike,” says its vaping guide. “In the same way that while the use of mobiles in public places is unrestricted, choosing to take a call at a restaurant table or in a quiet railway carriage can be seen as inconsiderate.”
Blowing vapour in someone else’s face is the biggest breach of politeness, according to a poll they conducted, but you’d hope that most people would already realise this. Despite its normalisation, vaping is still a new thing, and one-third of people told the Debrett’s survey they were unsure of when and where it is appropriate to vape.
So now we have the Debrett’s Guide to Vaping Etiquette, whose main suggestion is “not to assume it’s acceptable — and always check first”. Most places, say Debrett’s, will have clear policies on vaping.
If in doubt, ask. Would you vape at the theatre? Probably not. In a bar? Ask first. In a restaurant? Well, I’m not sure I’d like to smell rhubarb and custard vapour if I were mid-main course. Anyway, most restaurants equate it with smoking and don’t allow it. Ditto public transport – if you want to vape, go to the smoking areas outside.
Also, check with hotel rooms – vaping sets off smoke alarms and you don’t want to be THAT guest. Basically, from an etiquette point of view, proceed as though vaping is the same as smoking – something you do outside so that it will not annoy others. Don’t vape in queues, no matter how bored you are.
Inside someone’s house or car, you still need to check first. Also, beware ‘stealth vaping’ – unlike cigarettes, vape vaporises, leaving no trace or smell, so having a puff in a non-vaping space is not always detected. But the potential for irritation is such that it’s better to wait. Equally, don’t ask to use another vaper’s e-cigarette, but asking to sample their flavours is fine.
And non-vapers are far more tolerant of vaping than smoking – according to Debrett’s research, one in five non-vapers would date a vaper, whereas only one in 25 would date a smoker. So there you have it.
Vaping is sexier than smoking. You might look like the Pied Piper of Nicotinia, but at least you smell good.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved