Electronic cigarettes went from being a lark to being lethal over the weekend, when a one year old baby died from drinking liquid nicotine used for vaping - the pop culture term for e-cigarette consumption. The child's tragic death underscores a safety issue but represents an isolated incident not relevant to a broader, emerging debate over the smokeless cigarette itself.
Government agencies have been slow to place controls on vaping, which technically remains legal in most public places. Health and safety considerations aside, it puzzles me that the e-cigarette industry has gained any kind of traction in the first place. I haven't met more than half a dozen people who use the things, although admittedly, I'm not an active boulevardier, and for all I know there could be trendy cafes on the Plateau packed to the rafters with hipsters sampling the latest flavors in liquid nicotine, from Dill Pickle to Gorilla Booze (I'm not making those up). If that's the case, it marks an abrupt change in social attitudes. Cigarette smokers are the social pariahs of the 21st century, and even though e-cigarettes are smokeless and odorless, the concept is close enough to the real deal that people are going to be offended by them.
Lastly, there's this: as a stop smoking aid, vaping is - in the opinion of this ex-longtime smoker - a slippery slope. The combination of the nicotine and the ceremony of "lighting up" at specific times or under specific circumstances only feeds the habit, and at some point, you're going to say "what the hell, if I'm doing this, I might as well smoke a cigarette." Like the alcoholic trying to wean his way off booze by drinking non-alcoholic beer, it's a dead end - "dead" being the operative word.