In today's budget, Osborne the Younger didn't blast the smokers, drinkers or drivers. That was a pleasant surprise but it is not, as many news sources are claiming, a 'win' for those groups. Duty didn't go down in any of those cases. We just didn't get another kicking this time. Not really a win, more like one of those days when you turn up for school and the class psycho is off sick. A temporary reprieve.
It's a welcome change, all the same.
Smoking and drinking and driving are all costs that will increase in the future because they can all be blamed for something. As we all know, any problem can be solved by moving money around: if you're a street thug or a child batterer, you can be solved by moving money towards you. If you're a smoker, drinker, driver, chubby or a bit too salty for Righteous tastes, you can be solved by moving money away from you. It all depends on whether the Righteous think they can turn you into a dependent pet. So it's actually comforting to know I'm in several of the non-approved groups. Pity it's so damn expensive.
As Dick Puddlecote notes, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth after this Budget but for once, it'll be the antismokers and antidrinkers queueing up at the dentist's for re-enamelling. I hope they like the prices. Teeth cost an arm and a leg these days and I'm a bit short. Did you know gold ones can be cheaper than realistic white ones? It's almost worth getting into a fight... But I digress.
I have no idea what a pack of readymades costs these days but I bet you won't get many packs of 20 selling at under a fiver. As for rolling tobacco, it was about £10 for a two-ounce pack before I met Man with a Van. Two ounces could last me up to five days, so let's call that roughly £2 a day, at about 20 a day equivalent (depends how thick or thin you roll 'em).
So readymades currently cost, at shop prices, £75 for 15 packets (there's a reason I chose 15, you'll see in a minute). The equivalent for rollies would be roughly £30 - fifteen days at £2 per day. Man with a Van can cut those prices, of course, but he doesn't have fixed premises and none of his customers will reveal his van to strangers.
So let's say you are on readymades. This is already an extraordinarily good deal. As long as you can get along with it - not every smoker can. Even so, if you are on a pack a day, you risk the cost of just nine days' worth of smoking and if you decide it's not for you, there's eBay. Most Electrofag prices are along similar lines, and even if you do as I do and only use Electrofag when it's too cold and wet to go outside, it does seriously cut the costs.
If you're on rollups the cost difference takes longer to show, but it does show and the cost difference (for a roughly 75/25 mix of tobacco/Electrofag over the year) keeps on separating in favour of Electrofag. The best part is, you can have a sly puff inside even where it's frowned on, and there's no telltale smoke to give you away.
I have been puffing on Electrofag since last August and it has not weaned me off real tobacco. It's not quite the same but it's developing. It has nicotine, it has the leaning-back and blowing-smoke-rings part perfectly simulated but somehow it's not quite exactly right yet. But it's early days, really.
I don't really want to smoke tar. But I want to smoke. I love that relaxation of a whisky, a smoke, watching the smoke curl away, blowing rings while my thoughts ramble into something that might be coherent one day. Or not. It really doesn't matter. The rambling thoughts, the smoke, the whisky, are relaxation. I don't want to think hard while relaxing. Thinking hard is what I do for a living. I never play thought-requiring computer games, I play Doom and Quake and Sudoku, things that require hardly any thought at all, because relaxation is supposed to be not-work. Otherwise it would be like a railway track-layer relaxing by building a model railway sleeper by sleeper.
There is something about the actual burning that Electrofag hasn't yet captured. Perhaps if it was activated by some kind of remote that looked like a lighter, or even if we had a little torch with a simulated flame to pretend to light it. Or maybe if it stopped at a predetermined time to signal 'the end of the smoke' which it currently doesn't. If it then had to be reactivated by the remote, it would feel more like lighting another one and we'd know where we were. But that kind of research is for others to follow.
As it is, apart from massive cost savings, Electrofag has the following advantages.
No ash, no ashtrays required, no danger of being pounced on by the uninformed in uniform for littering when you put out the butt before binning it, no stale-ashtray smell in the mornings.
No fire risk, these things run on USB so they have less than five volts in them. The USB passthrough one has a 1.5 volt rechargeable battery in it. The normal batteries have both contacts at one end so you could make them explode, if you feel you have too many fingers. I have a film (not digital) Canon EOS camera that has similarly dangerous batteries, more so because the contacts are exposed. So that's not a good argument against. If you want to explode a battery, the Canon ones are far easier.
No smell. Nobody can claim second-hand or third-hand smoke because there is no residual smell at all. It just fades away on the air.
No particulates. Nicotine and propylene glycol can harm nobody at cigarette concentrations, real or electric, not even the smoker. It's the particulates that carry the risk and that risk depends directly on how much of the particulates you inhale. So even if you use Electrofag to reduce tobacco intake rather than replace it, you're cutting your particulates. Of course, if you routinely hang around lorry and bus-laden streets and/or spend much time on railway platforms, forget the particulates. Your intake is not measurably different from that of a non-smoker in the same situation anyway. The same is true of carbon monoxide which is why those street-testers weren't allowed to have any controls.
Then there's the surreal. Banana flavoured smoking. Coffee flavour. Absinthe flavour. All kinds of flavours. You can get zero-nicotine Electrofag loadings so nonsmokers can try smoking a roast chicken too. I mean, I thought liquorice papers combined with menthol filters was the height of weird for smoking but Electrofag goes into a level of weird that even Douglas Adams would have marvelled at.
My Electrofag is a Titan, black with a blue light (no link because I'm still pissed off at them for siding with ASH. That's like the termites telling the anteater where the ants live and believing he won't come back for them later). So I get a lot of double-takes because people think I'm chewing a pen until the 'smoke' comes out. Some Electrofags look like real cigarettes and light up red. That could be a lot of fun. Imagine being told to put it away by an irate drone, and watching their face as you drop what appears to be a lit cigarette into your pocket...
Then again, the blue light makes it clear to bar staff that I'm not really smoking. It is useful in that respect. They don't have to come over and check, as they would with a lifelike Electrofag. Blue or green lights are a useful option.
Electrofag has some way to go before it is a total replacement for tobacco but really, it's far more likely to succeed than patches or gum. It looks like smoking. It almost feels like smoking. Almost. Something is still missing but I can't quite put my finger on it.
But then, Electrofag has only existed for a few years and was invented in response to the smoking ban in something of a hurry. It has a future and it's a scary future for ASH and the Dreadful Arnott.
Nicotine-free versions are not illegal to give to any nonsmoker or to any child who can inhale and there will never be a legitimate argument to do so. You cannot levy duty on nicotine-free products either. Electrofag scares the crap out of ASH because it could make 'smoking' cool again.
That's all the reason I need to support it.
If the nonsmokers are 'smoking', then we are needles in a haystack.