E-cigarettes: is vaping any safer than old-fashioned smoke?

It could be a scene from Mad Men, only the execs are in M&S and the office is in Borehamwood. A marketing man named Roger sits at his desk, exhaling luxurious billows of smoke that twist and dance and vanish as they drift towards the ceiling tiles. “Is that a cigar he’s smoking?” I ask my tour guide, Michael Clapper of e-cigarette company Vapestick. “That’s a Vigar!” he announces with undisguised triumphalism. “Look at him! He looks like the boss.” In fact, Michael is the boss. He’s showing me around the headquarters of what has rapidly become a multimillion-pound business. We’ve already met Lorna from customer services, who was carrying boxes down a corridor with a black e-cigarette on the go, its tip glowing an alien blue. “The whole day I’m like this!” she told me, giddy with the delightful madness of it all. She pulled it from her mouth and showed me the top. “You can see the bite marks.” Clapper sits me down at a conference table with some chocolate biscuits and begins puffing on a black contraption with a window through which I can see a yellow-brown liquid sloshing. He’s in a dark suit, light blue shirt open at the collar, neatly groomed chest hair just visible. Stocky and shaven-headed, Clapper is part boardroom, part boxer. “This is our Advanced Vaping System,” he explains, holding the black stick between thumb and forefinger. “It has all the convenience of cartomisers, and all the power and performance of the latest vaporising devices.” If you don’t understand any of that, you’re not alone. A cartomiser is a cartridge that contains e-liquid as well as the technology necessary to atomise it, or turn it into faux smoke. But all you really need to know is that electronic cigarettes are used predominantly by smokers who want to cut down or quit, and that they are tobacco-free, containing only nicotine, flavourings and stage smoke. Except users don’t “smoke”, they “vape”. And, according to the monthly Smoking In England survey, an almighty 20% of smokers and 30% of recent quitters have vaped, while health charity Ash gives a figure of 2.1m users across Britain. In a few short years, the e-cigarette industry has become worth £90m in this country and £1.8bn worldwide. Lily Allen has been pictured vaping, as has Cara Delevingne. Charlie Sheen has promoted something called NicoSheen. Last month, the first e-cigarette TV ad was broadcast in an ITV break, while Oxford Dictionaries announced vape to be their word of the year: its use, they said, had more than doubled over the preceding 12 months.
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