BEHIND the corner counter in my local Co-op there is a section of black panelling, dotted with white price tags, where cigarettes used to be.
Beside the till where you pay, next to the collection tin for the nearest children's hospital, waiting to be plucked in an impulse-purchase kind of way are funkily packaged, "blu" e-cigarettes in menthol and "classic tobacco" flavours.
Standing in the queue, as I often do, it feels like the dam the Scottish Government has been carefully building to stem the pervasion of tobacco products is already leaking. Their ban on point of sales displays came into force in larger shops in 2013 after years of legal wrangling. Barely 12 months later, a product that looks and sounds similar, is within easier reach than the Disney stickers my oldest daughter is collecting.
I am not attacking the Scottish Government about this. The e-cigarette market is a swiftly emerging and confusing area. Not long ago, most people had not heard of them. Last week, research by health charity Ash Scotland revealed most teenagers consider them uncool, but nearly a quarter of 13 and 14-year-olds had tried them.
E-cigarettes, for those yet to be confronted with them at their local supermarket, are battery-powered devices that produce a vapour which can deliver a hit of nicotine. They appear to avoid the smoke-related dangers of traditional tobacco and could therefore be considered to carry significantly lower health risks. However, critics say their health implications are still unknown. One UK NHS website says: "They aren't proven as safe. In fact, some e-cigarettes have been tested by local authority trading standards departments and been found to contain toxic chemicals, including some of the same cancer-causing agents produced from tobacco."
It's worth noting that tobacco giants have been busy acquiring companies who make them.
New European tobacco laws come into force in 2016, and e-cigarettes are expected to fall under medical regulation in the UK as an aid to quit smoking then. In the mean time we are in uncharted waters. There isn't even legislation to ensure they can't be sold to children.
So the situation is changing, but all these complications only serve to underline one simple point. Should they currently be on sale at the till in a Co-op a few minutes walk from both a primary and secondary school? No they should not. Personally I don't think any supermarket should be displaying them, unless they can legitimately sit alongside withdrawal patches in the pharmacy section.
The Co-operative tell me they take "a responsible approach to the retailing of e-cigarettes, and have voluntarily imposed an age restriction on their sale". This means you have to prove you are over 18 to buy them.
I'm not impressed. Look up e-cigarettes on the internet and you find vendors describing them as "sexy" and images of young people puffing on them.
Just as having a stick hanging from your mouth was beginning to look dirty and weak people are trying to make it attractive again. Frankly, I find having any part in that sickening.
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