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Opinion: E-Cigarettes – is ‘vaping’ in front of our children socially acceptable?

Yes, you’ve done fantastically well to ween yourself down from a Grade 1 carcinogen to the equivalent of weed killer. But that doesn’t make it OK vape in front of my three-year-old.

Claire Micks

THEY SAY THAT there is no smoke without fire. And what e-cigarettes may lack in tobacco, they more than make up for in the explosive debate they ignite between those who see them as a welcome alternative to cigarettes, and those who view them as their sinister younger sister.

I caught my three year old ‘smoking’ a pipe cleaner the other day. I say ‘caught’, as opposed to ‘noticed’, because there was something about that image that made me feel as if she was doing something very, very wrong. Had she had her little finger firmly wedged up her nostril, I would have had a far less irrational reaction.

I handled it exactly the way you shouldn’t. Ran over, grabbed it off her and shouted, ‘What are you doing?!’. The poor child simply replied that she didn’t know. Because, God love her, she didn’t. All she was doing was mimicking what she has seen out and about socially of late. Vaping has just kind of snuck up upon us without me really noticing. Because smoking e-cigarettes around children now appears to be considered socially acceptable. And I genuinely can’t work out if my deep discomfort around this backwards shift is irrational or not. At least not enough to ask those around me to stop.

When the little white sticks get nonchalantly whipped out in front of my kids, I feel a surge of visceral loathing that makes me want to frogmarch the kids out of the room, even though I know that’s an overreaction. And I can’t quite put my finger on why. There’s no second hand smoke to worry about, so why am I going so ape around the vape?

A poisonous merry-go-round

I am an ex-smoker. And it is absolutely true what they say, there is nothing worse than an ex-smoker. We are undoubtedly the most intolerant breed of non-smokers out there, probably because we understand all too well the harm cigarettes do, and how hard a habit they are to kick. For 15 years I loved smokes and loathed them in equal measure. I had my last cigarette on 2 September 2010, the day I found out I was pregnant, and yes, I have regularly missed them since, and would, to this day, love to experience just one more glorious hit from that first drag again.

But I don’t. Because one was never enough. And I spent too many years in a vicious cycle of kicking the habit only to get reeled back in again whenever I let my guard down. And I don’t want my kids anywhere near that poisonous merry-go-round, without or without tobacco on board, even if that means that we have to be antisocial in the process.

Kids are pretty straightforward. They mimic the habits they see in adults. It is literally a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’. And I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that smoking of any kind is cool. Is adult. Is what people ‘do’. Vaping shouldn’t be like a cup of tea or a biscuit. Because it’s not. It’s inhaling a substance that was originally used as a pesticide. Even if nicotine alone is not as bad as tobacco, that does not make it good. Being the lesser evil compared to a drug that’s responsible for five million deaths worldwide annually is not exactly what you’d call a ringing endorsement.

An abrupt reality check

I vividly remember my own first smoke. 1994. I was sixteen. A late starter. And by God, did I think I was cool. I went away a child on a German exchange. And came back a ‘smoker’. Smoking made me adult, sophisticated, worldly. Until about 15 years later, when what I was coughing up was the furthest thing from glamorous, and my Sunday mornings were spent in a pit of self disgust as I discovered I’d gorged my way through yet another pack the night before.

I am also old enough to remember ten years later in March 2004. That was the first time I had to leave a pub and stand outside, in the rain, beside another abandoned mongrel, in order to get my ‘fix’. Getting goose bumps and damp hair no longer felt glamorous nor cool, and I had an abrupt reality check that continuing as a smoker was going to leave me very much out in the cold.

The smoking ban, considered so potentially divisive at the time, turned out not to be such a big deal after all. Because beneath all the hype and the rhetoric, fundamentally most people agreed with it, even if they were reluctant to admit it. We gradually evolved to a space where even if you were to invite a smoker to smoke inside your own home, as a courtesy, they generally wouldn’t. We had made a quantum leap forward. And then, in 2014, I find my three year old ‘smoking’ on the couch and I wonder where all that progress has gone.

‘Do you mind?’

When people occasionally ask ‘Do you mind?’, it is universally followed by the mantra ‘They’ve nothing in them, you know? Just fresh air’. I want to roar back at them ‘But that’s not the point!’. Yes, you’ve done fantastically well to ween yourself down from a Grade 1 carcinogen to the equivalent of weed killer. But that doesn’t make it OK to whip out ‘the crutch’ in front of my three-year-old. Who five minutes later will assimilate that habit into her own tea party routine, with unforeseen consequences into the future.

Because it’s not what’s in them that I have the difficulty with. It’s what they signify. Because if my daughter grows up thinking that those little white sticks are the norm, what’s to stop her wanting to try out the real thing? Adults may appreciate the risks and choose e-cigarettes over their cancer creating counterparts, but adolescents won’t. And the vicious cycle starts all over again.

Claire Micks is the mother of a (reasonably behaved) three-year-old girl and an (entirely spoiled) 15-month-old boy. She survives by day and writes by night. Croaks rather than tweets, but despite that somehow manages to get her ramblings published on occasion.

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Claire Micks

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