The most telling comment on "vaping" comes near the end of our Review feature today: "Expert opinion is that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking but not completely harmless."

Significantly less harmful is certainly true. Tobacco is a killer not because it contains nicotine but because that drug is delivered from burned leaf. It is the tar and other toxins in the smoke of burned leaf that cause the lung cancer associated with cigarette smoking.

E-cigarettes burn nothing organic. They heat a liquid containing nicotine to produce vapour that delivers the drug to the lungs and bloodstream. It does not sound healthy but what drug is?

Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa, who made the comment above, went on to say carcinogens found in e-cigarette vapour are "at levels much lower than found in cigarette smoke, or at levels that are unlikely to cause harm".


So why does "vaping" of nicotine remain in a legal limbo? Why does it remain even more restricted than cigarettes? The previous Government, after prevaricating for years, decided to legalise the sale of nicotene for e-cigarettes to customers over 18 but it has not happened yet. Salesa says the new Government has it under consideration.

Meanwhile, smokers have been buying nicotine canisters online for years and importing them for use in the devices that can be sold here. Some outlets, as we report today, are now selling them with nicotine to customers over 18 on the assumption that will be allowed eventually and nobody is stopping them.

The uncertainty persists because public health experts and anti-smoking campaigners have been divided over whether e-cigarettes are a good thing. Some see them as an effective way to give up tobacco, others fear they maintain the culture of smoking and may tempt newcomers to try tobacco.

But ordinary observation suggests "vapers" are overwhelmingly former smokers and vaping is certainly better for them than tobacco. So why the hold-up in legalising them?

It must be the culture that worries the public health professionals. They might not approve of people sucking anything but fresh air into their lungs, but they know they need better reasons that to restrict a product in demand. They say they have found some carcinogens in the vapour but those do not sound very serious.

They also dispute whether e-cigarettes help people to quit smoking. They might not quit vaping but that should not be the test. Vaping is obviously less harmful and its legality should be cleared up.