The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 14 November

Smoking is so passé these days. But is the new fashion for ‘vaping’ any more acceptable, asks Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
It looks as if electronic cigarettes are on the increase. Are we likely to see them in the workplace and at the dinner table in the near future? If so, what should we do?
Brenda Sullivan, Royston

Dear Brenda,
I have rarely seen an electronic or e-cigarette but statistics bear you out that more and more people are using them – up from 700,000 in 2012 to 2.1 million in 2014 according to some estimates. If you don’t know, e-cigarettes look like and are used in the same way as conventional cigarettes, except that they only produce a supposedly harmless vapour containing nicotine. Enthusiasts see them as a safe alternative to smoking as well as a way round the smoking ban.

Potentially they could be used anywhere. But in my experience, people ‘smoking’ or ‘vaping’, as it is called, feel compelled to explain what they are doing because they appear to be smoking in places where they shouldn’t. Which is the fi rst drawback to their general use. How tiresome to have to hear over and over, ‘It’s all right, I’m not smoking, I’m vaping.’

The glorious smoking ban introduced by the last Labour government has altered for good our attitude not just to tobacco smoke (how did we ever put up with it?) but also to the action of smoking. For years we took it for granted that half the people we were talking to were busy flapping about lighting and sucking on cigarettes as well as hunting for ashtrays.

There’s no going back now. Someone vaping at the table or at a party or in the workplace is just going to look like a freak. Besides it’s not at all clear that the vapour produced by the e-cigarette is in fact harmless. Traces of carcinogens have been found and the items are too new to know for sure what the impact of these might be. It is also a problem that the ingredients vary from one type of e-cigarette to another and some are less reputable than others.

For purely investigative purposes I went to the extreme of buying an e-cigarette to smell for myself its emissions. After a short experiment, I have to admit the vapour leaves no trace whatsoever, but I can’t speak for the impact of many people vaping indoors over a whole evening.

‘Real’ smokers even stand outside their own homes for a fag break. E-smokers may do less harm to others and themselves but they are still nicotine addicts. Would they wish to advertise this condition in the workplace? There’s no escape: smoking just isn’t glamorous any more and e-cigarettes are no way round that. Vapers must accept banishment as tobacco users have done. If they want to pursue their hobby at any social occasion or at work, they must go outside.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


This is when you were unfit to drive after dinner or a party, so had to go home in a taxi. The next day you must retrieve your vehicle from outside the hosts’ premises. Should you knock? Or wave through the window? Or aim not to be seen and slink away? I do think this is an agonising dilemma. Without question there’s a menacing, lurking feel to the idea of being present outside the house of a friend or acquaintance and not making oneself known. It would be terrible if they saw you, trying to get away. You’d feel tainted, marked out as a stalker.

On the other hand, if you knock, you’ve got to be invited in and it’s only 10 hours since they gave you dinner or sherry and nibbles. But some hosts would be offended. ‘Why didn’t you come in?’ they’d say. They might think you didn’t like the party. You have to judge the particular case. Ideally, I would take a taxi both ways so you don’t get into this trap. Surely your time is money? Or park your car far enough away that there’s no risk of them seeing you.