Guest post from Mike Mackenzie, MSP.
I like smokers. They are honest. They aren’t hypocritical. They aren’t afraid to admit they have faults. They don’t pretend to be perfect. Having at least this one very public fault, they are often understanding and tolerant of the faults of others.
I used to be one. Not a part time smoker, not an occasional smoker, but a hard bitten, life long, full blown smoker. I smoked roll ups. I didn’t use filters. I smoked an ounce of tobacco every day for over thirty years. I enjoyed every lungful.
Tobacco was my best friend. It was with me in the best of times and the worst of times. I never had a cup of coffee without a cigarette. I never had a glass of whisky without one. In triumph or disaster a cigarette was called for or came to the rescue, reassuring and consoling. Every problem had a solution when a cigarette was at hand.
Smokers often have this reflective quality. They don’t panic or lose the plot in the face of problems. They light up. They inhale. They think. They are philosophical in the face of all the ups and downs of life and all of its uncertainties.
My addiction as you may have gathered was by no means only physical. I started smoking at 12 years old; just an occasional secret fag shared with friends. Until I left school I was a weekend smoker only, but I got going in earnest when I went to University. I rolled cigarettes without conscious thought or effort. I could roll them in the dark or riding a bike. I could roll them with one hand if a party trick was called for.
Newly elected in 2011, perhaps because of the stresses of a new job, perhaps because of the amount of driving I was now doing, I found I was smoking more and getting less exercise. I began to think about cutting down my smoking. As a lifelong fitness fanatic friends were often confounded at the apparent anachronism I presented. I would breakfast on two cups of coffee and four cigarettes and then head off to the gym or go for a run. I kidded myself that somehow being fit would protect me against the worst effects of tobacco.
Perhaps it did but when I turned fifty I began to notice these effects. I couldn’t run as fast or as far. I couldn’t yet feel his hot breath on my neck but I began to sense the grim reaper gaining ground on me. Still I didn’t want to stop smoking. I didn’t want to abandon my lifelong friend. It was merely as an aid to cutting down that I thought I would give e-cigarettes a try.
Within two days and without really wanting to I had stopped smoking altogether. Eighteen months on I feel ten years younger. I get less exercise than I used to but I feel fitter. I have more energy, I sleep less and my powers of concentration have increased. Friends say I look younger.
Nicotine, as drugs go, is benign. It may even have some beneficial properties. How else do you explain our five hundred year habit of smoking? It was always the delivery system that was at fault, but even wrapped up in the cancerous cocktail of tobacco, for many people the pros still outweighed the cons. They chose to smoke knowing the risks. Life, after all, is not merely a competition to see who can live the longest.
Still the health costs of smoking tobacco are high, far too high and the technological solution, the e-cigarette, is one of those triumphs of the ingenuity of humanity. It gives me hope that we will solve many of our other problems.
The debate surrounding the regulation of e-cigarettes, is perhaps inevitable, but it has some unfortunate undertones. Those with little understanding seek to ban them or regulate them out of existence. Often these are the same people who have campaigned so avidly against tobacco. The logical inconsistency of holding these two antipathies seems lost on them. There is risk that the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater.
Proponents of e-cigarettes should see regulation as an opportunity. Proportionate and reasonable regulation will put many of the fears to bed. For responsible manufacturers it will provide a quality hallmark and for consumers, confidence that their health is not put before profit. It is not regulation itself which is bad but bad regulation and care should be taken on both sides of this argument that such regulation that emerges is as good as it can be.