By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
Last night I attended a small theatre production in Chiswick based on the life of Marie Curie. I won’t bore you with the details, but Curie’s first husband Pierre was a played by a typically refined character who sported a mustard yellow jacket, waistcoat and chinos in true Ted Baker fashion. In fact, his bearded face and flat cap would look downright ordinary in certain London boroughs, I remember thinking, if not for one item; his pipe.
Pipe-smoking has suffered somewhat of a demise in the UK and is oft perceived as a relic of a time gone by. My friend and I recently purchased pipes for an old-school gentleman’s dress party but we achieved little more than wasting an entire box of matches trying to light them up. To this day I remember the bemused and somewhat humoured expressions of passers-by, taken aback by two young lads smoking a pipe and chuckling at their inability to do so.
Not since the ‘pipe-era’ of the 1800s when Victorian gentleman donned smoking jackets and discussed politics has the pipe been deemed a societal norm. The First World War was synonymous with images of smoking soldiers which is when cigarette sales started to exceed those of pipe tobacco. Smoking had become less of a luxury item and more part of everyday life, and significantly, women had taken to the habit, with 39 per cent of all women thought to be smoking cigarettes by 1949.
Modern smoking laws and an increased awareness about the health implications of smoking has led to the birth of the 21st century ‘e-smoker’, or the ‘vapour generation’ if you prefer. For those who live under a rock the electronic cigarette is a battery-powered vaporizer which has a similar feel to tobacco smoking but doesn’t contain tobacco, thus offering a stylish alternative to the traditional death stick.
It has steadily become more societally acceptable, but I still can’t help look at e-smokers without thinking they’re toking on Dumbledore’s wand. They really are gaudy objects. Who’d have ever thought battery powered twigs would have taken off! But they have. Sales of e-cigarettes soared by 340 per cent in 2013 and are apparently 80 per cent cheaper than smoking regular cigarettes.
Still, they’re not nearly as chic as a pipe. The wise Mr Badger in The Wind in the Willows would have scoffed at an e-cig, as would the renowned Tony Benn, Harold Wilson and, of course, Al Einstein. Sherlock Holmes used to call a difficult case a “three-pipe problem”, difficult to imagine that being re-coined a “three-vapour problem.”
So why not marry the two? The soaring popularity of e-smoking with the chic image of pipes? Properly marketed I’d say that e-pipes are two years away from being commonplace on the streets of Shoreditch.
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