IT IS two years to the month that I had my last cigarette. Two years since I conceded, when faced with the evidence, that my precious friend was the enemy after all and was killing me.

It’s amazing, when presented with a future carrying your own oxygen around, that you realise the game’s a bogey. Time has been called.

I knew myself the lungs were probably shot when, after waking up, the first 20 minutes of the day were spent in taking tiny little breaths and praying the lungs would inflate.

There is nothing more panic inducing than the feeling of having no air and the struggle to hold it all together and just pant.

It had all happened fairly quickly although of course it had taken years since that first fag, escalating as my consumption to 40+ a day escalated.

A warning from my doctor had gone unheeded 18 months earlier because it was done with an appeal to my intelligence and my personal choice.

Let me tell all doctors now: Appealing to a patient’s logic and intelligence does not work. Frankly, you need to put the fear of God into them.

That, of course, subsequently happened after a stint in a shower type cabinet with nose pinched and tube in mouth to measure my lung capacity.

Let’s just say it was pretty woeful and the specialist laid out the future.

But that’s the past and with luck, and a strong inhalant once a day, I’m curtailing the damage, although it is ultimately progressive.

However, however, however – I’m probably now inhaling more nicotine than I ever did in my chain smoking days.

I am perhaps more hooked on e-cigarettes than I ever was on the real thing.

I walk about like a geriatric baby sucking on a dummy; the fake deliverer of 24 milligrams of nicotine per atomizer releasing vapour with each draw.

Unlike the vape substitutes with liquid nicotine, it is not comparable to a hookah pipe but more like the real thing – the batteries charging up on the side of my Mac.

It seems I am on my last batch of 24grms for new laws have deemed them too strong. An attempt at 14grms was a failure as I seemed to be sucking in fresh air and no ‘hits’ were forthcoming.

Fear is beginning to seep into me at the thought of further restrictions.

As the above makes clear, the ashtrays, the morning cough, the scent of smoke throughout the house, may all have gone but I’m still here, an unrepentant addict.

And I feel no shame.

In fact if I could go back on the fags tomorrow without side-effects then I would.

I would go back to standing in restaurant doorways with fellow puffers as the rain pattered down; go back to slipping out of lunches as fellow guests looked on with pity and distaste; go back to sticking my head down a loo for a quick hit before boarding a plane; go back to full pariah status.

Many scientists acknowledge that pure nicotine is relatively benign. The danger from cigarettes comes in the package of tar and chemicals.

But now, I’d cynically suggest, backed by the tobacco industry and fuelled by loss of tax revenue, the demonisation of e-cigarettes is underway.

As happened with cigarettes, e-cig smokers are finding doors being firmly shut. Government buildings, hospitals, even some restaurants find the harmless ‘smoke’ issuing from the stick as terrifying as the real thing.

It is useless to point out it is simply vapour. Useless to counteract evidence with evidence; useless to quote experts who show that smokers are overwhelmingly helped in quitting by this method than any other.

We all chose the statistics that suit our case.

I can hear some of you – those who’ve never smoked – muttering to yourself just to give up; use nothing as a substitute. Willpower is all.

But I have given up. Given up cigarettes but not nicotine.

The irony, of course, has always been that cigarettes remain perfectly legal across the globe and as long as that remains the case people will smoke.

In truth, of course, e-cigs cannot be said to be perfectly safe but most experts conclude that they are a hell of a lot less harmful than the real thing.

They are also mostly used as a substitute by habitual smokers who have given up: No evidence to show that their plastic appeal is calling to teenage first timers.

After two years on them, I can feel the difference. I breathe freely, although the damage already done shows itself on certain days depending on the weather.

My lungs test clear and neither my specialist nor my doctor have any problems with my continued use of the substitute.

My clothes, so I am told, no long reek of tobacco but then I never noticed in the first place.

I don’t have to burn candles to mask my fumes when people are staying.

And I have retained my sanity by taking my drug via a safer, still just acceptable route.

If the restrictions against that route become as punitive as for smoking then I may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.

And forced back outside, then I shall simply light up the real thing.