An unwanted faceful of secondhand vapour meant a dash to hospital

While feelings run high on both sides of the great debate over e-cigarette flavours, has one vital – potentially even life-threatening – factor been largely overlooked?

My sister was recently rushed to hospital after being “vaped over” (her words) in a public car park.

She says: “People would not dream of blowing cigarette smoke over you the way they do with vape clouds. Another time I spent a week unable to get into work because people were vaping in the doorway of the office building – this is on a ‘smoke-free’ site.”

Now, while many people may find the experience of secondhand vapour scarcely any pleasanter than the no-longer-socially-acceptable waft of tobacco smoke, hers may seem an extreme reaction. And of course it is. But there’s good reason for it, which I’ll come to in a minute.

Among the remarkably scarce reliable research into passive vaping, ECigIntelligence reported in 2017 on two US studies that found “very little to worry about” over the effect of secondhand vaping.

So what put my sister in hospital, and kept her away from the office?

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    The likeliest culprit, she believes, is vanilla flavouring, to which she is strongly allergic. Or it could have been balsam of Peru, ditto. But then there are a lot of different substances used to flavour e-liquids, and Alison is allergic to a lot of things.

    So is this reason for regulators – of both the chemical make-up of e-liquids and the public behaviour of vapers – to get twitchy trigger-fingers? Probably not.

    After all, many people are allergic to peanuts, some so violently that the mere hint of peanut in the air can make them dangerously ill. Indeed, my niece (Alison’s daughter) nearly died of a peanut in a restaurant meal. But no one, as far as I know, seriously suggests making peanuts illegal, banning them in public, or restricting their use to over-18s only.

    On the other hand, people are generally understanding and compliant when asked not to eat peanuts in the office or on a plane, for example, when someone with that particular allergy is known to be present.

    So maybe all that’s needed is to encourage a slight change of public attitude.

    Yes, vaping is in all likelihood a great deal safer than smoking, both for the user and the passer-by. But maybe if every vaper was aware that their habit may not necessarily be safer for those around them than a faceful of cigarette smoke, they’d be more circumspect about “vaping over” others.

    Photo: Will Fisher

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    Aidan Semmens