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Why safer e-cigs can still be villainous

When Audrey Hepburn, as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's, waved a cigarette in the viewer's face, it was the height of elegance.

It wasn't just her arm-length black gloves and halter of pearls that lent her glamour, but the long silver holder, thin as a joss stick, that exuded sophistication as well as nicotine.

Gone are the days when cigarettes were a ubiquitous prop in films. Now, however, there is a hint that the e-cigarette, the socially acceptable face of the tobacco addict, might be on its way to becoming shorthand in film-speak for a dodgy or evil persona, like Walt Disney's Cruella De Vil, whose sulphurous cigarette was the last word in menace.

That, at least, is the belief of film director Ramin Bahrani, whose movie 99 Homes had its premier last week in Venice. He suggested the part of a corrupt estate agent would be enhanced if he puffed an e-fag, its plumes suggesting he is like "a smokestack that's about to blow".

Some will applaud the demonising of e-cigarettes, among them, one imagines, the World Health Organisation, which recently advised that they be banned in all indoor public places since the fumes they emit are toxic. Also backing this stance is the British Medical Association.

Not surprisingly the e-cigarette lobby is indignant at what it sees as a heavy-handed approach to one of the most promising advances in the hunt for a cure for tobacco addiction. According to Professor Neil McKeganey, Director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research in Glasgow, this is "an excessive regulation".

Meanwhile, studies into the affects of vaping suggest that it is "likely to be much less, if at all, harmful to users or bystanders" than cigarettes.

Indeed, some claim e-fags are 99 per cent safer than conventional cigarettes, and insist that denying people the chance to smoke them indoors would make some smokers think twice before swapping the real thing for the safer electronic version.

So ranged against each other like teams in a tug of war are those concerned about the unquantified threat to bystanders of e-vapour, and those who look at the bigger picture and fear that a blanket ban will result in fewer smokers giving up tobacco, to the great damage of the nation's health.As someone whose youthful foray into smoking ended when I set my scarf on fire I am intensely partisan on this subject.

Whenever someone lights up an e-fag and emits a cloud across an office, or pub or cafe, I flinch. Thinking back to the time when the atmosphere on the top deck of the bus was thicker than a Turkish bath, or one couldn't see across a pub for the billowing curtains of smoke, feels like recalling the Middle Ages. Only dinosaurs such as Nigel Farage, who think the smoking ban is "silly", would advocate a return to those days.

And while early analysis of e-cigarettes suggests that they are far less risky, why should anyone be obliged to inhale something that might yet be proved damaging? Apart from anything else, I don't like the belching billow of vapour, or the thought of breathing it. Bad enough those who douse themselves in Lynx or Opium before a night out.

Even the odour of cigarettes that clings to smokers, newly returned from their outdoor bunkers, is off-putting, just as the smell of cow dung on a farmer's boots makes his end of the room a bit too rustic for my liking. So were pubs or restaurants to fill once more with vapour, I and many like me would simply stay at home.

It's worrying, of course, to think that someone's love of unsullied airspace might result in a smoker not kicking the habit. You might even ask if an infraction of one person's right to clean air trounces another's to live less dangerously?

Yet surely the obligation to cut down or quit smoking lies with the addict rather than with those of us who are otherwise expected to allow smokers' medical needs to encroach on our lives.

Eventually, whether they are smokers, non-smokers, or those tempted to take their first drag, individuals have to take full responsibility for their own health. Call me Cruella, but in advocating a draconian e-fag ban, WHO and their supporters are helping everyone to do just that.

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Health

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