The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 31 August

Dear Thomas

I am dismayed to hear about a committee of MPs recommending that consumption of e-cigarettes should be permitted on buses and trains.

Vaping may not be as harmful as smoking, but it’s still a nasty habit. Why aren’t Members of Parliament setting a better example?

Brenda Muir, Cobham

Dear Brenda

MPs published their report on 17 August. At first glance, it makes odd reading: let’s have more vaping at every opportunity, it seems to be saying. Not just on buses and trains but on NHS mental health trust premises as well. Plus: vaping to be encouraged by health professionals, even prescribed, as a tool for giving up smoking; duties and taxes to be relaxed and advertising permitted.

But self-indulgence is not what the MPs have in mind. Their report has been widely welcomed by public health and smoking charities and experts as well-researched and fair. Vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than conventional smoking, there is no public health case for treating the two as the same, and thousands of people have given up smoking through vaping.

Even so the logic is hard to follow. Make e-cigs more acceptable, the MPs seem to be saying, and more people will give up smoking. By which is meant, as far as anyone can tell, they will take up vaping. If the physical health of the vaper is your only concern, then this is fair enough. But the neurotic need to fiddle about with something, the oral fixation (possibly infantile), the clouds of smoke (or whatever it is) making a barrier between the smoker and whomever they are talking to… well, that’s something else. These MPs are behind the times. The smoking ban brought in by the Labour Government in 2007 changed everything. Now, smokers are the odd ones out, curiosities left over from a bygone age. They’re not seen at parties or in public places, only in their strange huddles outside buildings. I just don’t see the clock being turned back. Just because someone is vaping, that won’t make it all right. Vaping is never going to become ‘normal’, as cigarette smoking once was.

Lots of people really don’t like the smell. You may recall some years ago I conducted an experiment with e-cigarettes in my own home. It was deeply scientific, of course. I didn’t like the smell either. Why does a person have to be in a room or on a bus producing smoke? Why would we think this is a reasonable thing to be doing? No, vapers can go where the other smokers go – outside, or out of sight. It might not be a ‘nasty’ habit, but it’s a habit nevertheless. Nor do I see why, if somebody is serious about giving up cigarette smoking, not being able to vape on a bus will put them off.

Please write to Thomas at the usual Bedford Street address or email

 WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Declining standards

As you know, I’ve always discouraged sweeping generalisations of a disagreeable nature; ie, ‘the country’s going to the dogs’, ‘things aren’t what they used to be’. Huff, puff… let’s go blue in the face, etc. but this week, sadly,I feel myself slipping. A friend came back from a rich part of Italy and said all the cafés ran out of croissants at breakfast-time (perfect timing). meanwhile, back in UK, I’ve got my horns locked with the catering department of the Royal Opera House. They keep sending messages demanding thatIi order food six months in advance. Then they change their minds. When challenged they say they’re updating their system. Boring bureaucratic emails. So it’s all for their convenience. Too bad the customer gets messed around. the final straw was the dear old Great Western railway. On Monday I traveled to Exeter and back in the day. Carriage boiling hot at Paddington. Had to look for staff; stroppy attitude. Later developments included the absence of functioning toilets and water to wash hands. At Exeter, I had a good look at the carriage from the outside. It had certainly gone to the dogs.